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April Tra in “Ezio Suite.” (from a show at LUX Gallery.) Photo: Amber Bliss/TruBliss Photography

Litvak Dance may be a newborn, but there were no tentative baby steps in the repertory company’s sold-out debut concert last weekend. Litvak exploded onto the stage at UCSD’s Molli and Arthur Wagner Dance Theatre with assured dancers performing work by four choreographers, shifting deftly between styles. And the closing piece by artistic director Sadie Weinberg was so glorious and theatrical, it begs to be shown on a larger stage.

Weinberg showed two pieces, both of them set to music by Ezio Bosso, a contemporary classical composer with whom she seems to connect on a cellular level, her choreography so aligns with the music’s dynamics and mood.

“We Find Home.” Photo: Jim Carmody

“Ezio Suite,” a trio of three dances, opened the program. Each dance, like the music, begins meditatively, then turns urgent. “We Find Home,” has four dancers (Ashley Akhavan, Joshua Dunn, Lemoe Mata’itusi, and Traci McKnight) supporting each other in various pairings, then going into long-limbed reaches and quick, tight pirouettes. Dunn, big and graceful, was especially impressive.

In “Falling into Something Altogether Different,” three women (Beverly Johnson, Berlin Lovio, and Korey Van Hoy) begin with blank, almost robotic faces and end up extending their legs in askew arabesques and running toward us with big, open arms.

The standout performance in “Ezio Suite”—and of the evening—came from April Tra in “The Practice of Coming Back.” To Bosso’s poignant “Cross, an Hallelujah,” Tra stands facing us, her feet rooted; six dancers sit circling her like witnesses at a ritual. She lifts one hand, a simple gesture performed with almost painful clarity, as if she’s consciously moving each tiny muscle. Later she convulsively throws herself to the floor, rises, falls again (she makes this appear effortless). The others sometimes lift and move her, but she’s in her own world, her face conveying an impassioned sense of struggle. Tra was for several years a member of Eveoke Dance Theater, and I saw that training in her intensely emotional presence.

Meredith Yayanos. Photo: Raymond Elstad.

Bradley Lundberg’s “Tous Les Mêmes” strikes a flirtatious tone, as two women (Akhavan and McKnight) approach each other teasingly, trading items of clothing—a vest, a fedora—to gypsy violin played onstage by Meredith Yayanos. As things heat up, they go into playful acrobatic moves and lifts. This piece was done in one show as a male-female duet.

“In a Palpable Void.” Photo: Manuel Rotenberg.

In Dave Massey’s propulsive “In a Palpable Void,” six dancers jerk and twitch, pulling at their uniform blue sweats as if the clothes are uncomfortable; they end up wriggling out of them into underwear. There’s a lot of odd-man-out, e.g., one dancer standing while the rest are on the ground. The movement cascades from delicate demi-pointe walks to big Godzilla footfalls to frantic runs at the front of the stage, then retreats. It all culminates in a low, ominous, thrilling phalanx that made me think of “Rite of Spring.” The cast was Akhavan, Dunn, Lovio, Mata’itusi, McKnight, and Van Hoy.

As onstage violinist Kristopher Apple plays a single note, eight clustered dancers stir like an organism waking in “Out of the Ether” by Yolande Snaith. This oozy opening gives way, in refreshing contrast, to sharp unison moves, the dancers in two facing groups. Then one person or another has a burst of movement in a long section that feels improvised, which is probably true to Snaith’s interest, stated in the program, in “elements that emerge seemingly from nowhere,” but it gets tedious and makes this the one disappointment on the program.

“Another Ezio Summer.” Photo: Manuel Rotenberg.

In Weinberg’s closing “Another Ezio Summer: new & archived phrases,” eleven dancers throw themselves across the stage like driven leaves. There’s an abandon reminiscent of Paul Taylor’s iconic works to classical music. It was a pleasure to see Weinberg dance in this; at the end, she sat on the floor, twisting her torso down to the floor, then opening her arms out, again and again, more joyous every time.

Although this show was one weekend only, the company has several performances coming up, including this weekend with Snaith’s IMAGOMoves, at City Heights Performance Annex. For a complete list of upcoming showcases, see their website.

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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