BODYTRAFFIC Offers Delectable Food for Thought

How much does music influence our experience of a dance—our sense of a piece’s mood and overall enjoyment? It’s a question some postmodern choreographers investigated by performing in silence. Merce Cunningham famously developed dances independent of scores.

Appearing here last week, BODYTRAFFIC explored an intriguing range of music-dance relationships in work by an international roster of choreographers. Two of the Los Angeles company’s pieces were set to feel-good tunes by the likes of Peggy Lee and Oscar Peterson. Another used sappy songs by male crooners as an ironic counterpoint to almost-nude male solos. And one featured James Brown classics, but often edited into distortion. It made for an evening of superb dancing by eight gorgeous movers … and rich food for thought.

In the feel-good music category, in the program presented by La Jolla Music Society at the Conrad: Matthew Neenan’s “A Million Voices” and Richard Siegal’s “O2Joy.”

Jordyn Santiago and Guzmàn Rosado are stricken with ennui. Photo: Rob Latour

Neenan, co-founder of BalletX and former resident choreographer for the Philadelphia Ballet, set “A Million Voices” to songs by Peggy Lee. It’s delicious. I’ve rarely seen dancers look like they’re having more fun, doing sweeping kicks, effortless-looking transitions from floor to standing, and a choo-choo line (to “Freedom Train”). There’s a wonderfully fey move I called “in the saddle,” where they stand in a wide plié and shift weight side-to-side.

Neenan’s generous choreography invites the dancers to shine as individuals. In a moment of silence, riveting Ty Morrison goes into deep lunges that feel meditative yet comic; he gives a wave, pats his head and rubs his belly. Jordyn Santiago and Guzmàn Rosado bring deadpan humor to “That’s All There Is,” with intentionally gauche partnering—he drags her by the foot, she puts her hand on his head—and utter indifference as other dancers cavort in a circus parade.

Siegal, who founded and directs Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference in Cologne, Germany, turned to music by jazz legends for “O2Joy.” To an Oscar Peterson scat song, a man does dramatic traveling leaps. Billie Holiday’s “Sunny Side of the Street” features Tiare Keeno skipping and bouncing; she’s the O2 of the piece’s title.

Morrison lip-syncs and vamps in pink jeans to Ella Fitzgerald’s “All of Me.” And a poignant story unfolds to songs by Glenn Miller and Peterson, as a man and woman, separately, do similar yearning moves. Clearly, they’re kindred souls, and will they find each other? This is a smile-on-your-face dance, so the answer is yes.

Micaela Taylor created “Snap” for BODYTRAFFIC in 2019, the year she was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch.” The piece opens with a man grooving to James Brown’s “I Got a Feeling.” Moments later, the recording distorts into blips and whispers, in contrast to the seven dancers’ graceful, balletic poses. Sound engineer SHOCKEY did the editing as well as original music.

This dance is so full, a single viewing offers just a glimpse … of sensual, slithery movements, deft shifts between unison and disconnection, body percussion, mime, moments when one dancer breaks out of a cluster. Occasionally—blessedly!—recognizable parts of a James Brown tune emerge. To “It’s a Man’s World,” three men do sinuous hip moves and occasional lip-syncing. And the piece ends with joyous funk to “Super Bad.”

Taylor’s intention, according to the program notes, was to move viewers to “snap” out of conformity and connect to themselves and others. What I connected to was how the fragmented sound distracted me from the dancers. That could certainly be a potent metaphor for the fragmentation of our device-driven lives. However, for my taste, the audio manipulation went too far and overwhelmed the piece.

I’ve seen stellar work that Alejandro Cerrudo created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago during his 10 years as their resident choreographer. He initially made “Pacopepepluto” for Hubbard Street and set it on BODYTRAFFIC in 2021. The piece opens with a jaw-dropper: to the sentimental “Memories are Made of This,” we see Joan Rodriguez, his deeply-muscled back to us, and is he nude? Turns out he’s wearing a dance belt (like thong underwear for men); still, when he faces us, he fig-leafs his hands over his crotch.

Cerrudo uses three Dean Martin songs (two recorded by Martin, one by a Martin impersonator). To each, there’s a solo by a dance belt-wearing man. The dancers are swell, especially Pedro Garcia, who brings sharp slashing arms to “In the Chapel in the Moonlight.” But the joke of juxtaposing corny Eisenhower era songs and nearly-nude men quickly stales, making this the one thin offering on a program of juicy, substantial fare.


  1. Patricia R Low on June 17, 2023 at 7:41 am

    BodyTraffic, a company heretofore unknown to me—was deliciously sensational on its way to delectable! From start to finish, including the final piece—among Pacopedropluto’s offerings, an impossible-to-deny ode to (lawny good gracious!) what dance has done for these men’s physiques! Got my vote for the ultimate expression of eye candy, even before stepping into those captivating moves. Bonus: humor intended!

    Like James Brown, I’m an Augusta native and looked forward to hearing the Godfather of Soul with BT’s high caliber dancers & the choreography. But the music’s cacophony + the infrequent moments of that iconic voice left me a bit dissatisfied.

    That aside, the evening in the beautiful space was luscious–every offering a dessert!
    (Coming up: LJMS’s next dance season w/another fave, Leonard Cohen featured in one of its four offerings.)

  2. Marcia Luttrell on July 19, 2023 at 1:21 pm

    What an enjoyable show this was – I appreciate the ability to relive it. Thank you Janice Steinberg!

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