• dancers on stage with garbage bags in front of them

      World premiere of Joy, choreographed by Danielle Agami (Photo – Rob LaTour/Shutterstock)

      Thursday November 4th, on the birthday of the choreographer—Danielle Agami—the LA-based company Ate9 performs the world premiere of Joy, an astonishing, absolutely stellar production.

      By Toti O’Brien

      Built, designed and rehearsed at the just re-opened Wallis Annenberg Center during COVID, Joy shines with the splendor of a perfectly healthy accomplishment. Vision and realization coincide. No friction is felt anywhere.

      Perfect fit, magical adhesion, for instance, between choreography and music. As the curtain goes up, cellist/composer Isaiah Gage starts fingerpicking his cello as if it were a flamenco guitar, in a most surprising, lyrical and yet spry pizzicato. Soon, his lines are played back in loops he operates from stage by means of a pedal. He is hands free now to weave dense, thick, eloquent legato lines (beautiful threads of melody or sheer, powerful tones) within the staccato frame. The music never stops. Or indeed it does, sharply dropped in the middle of a line, hitting silence with a sparkling effect in order to mark a passage or the end of a chapter. It resumes just as swiftly. Besides those sharp punctuations, it never stops. It never stalls either, constantly evolving from frank statements to tenuous, soothing murmurs, through haunting crescendo into bold climaxes, quickly mellowing down, finding the next path to explore. Kudos to an extremely talented instrumentalist/innovator.

      dancers in circle

      (Starting in circle from far left going back) Cacia LaCount. Evan Sagadencky. Bronte Mayo, Nat Wilson, Jordyn Santiago, Montay Romero, Paige Amicon, Danielle Agami (center of circle,) Isaiah Gage (on cello) (Photo – Rob LaTour/Shutterstock)

      Perfect timing

      Joy lasts seventy-five minutes that feel like five, as there isn’t a second when the energy or the imagination wane. The piece is divided in three segments—each lasting about twenty minutes—separated by brief gaps when the audience is not especially invited to leave their seats, and light in the house stays dim. Therefore, spectators remain connected, bathed within the mood that dancers and music project, yet they are not overwhelmed. The short breaks allow the three sections, each self-standing—though the trilogy clearly is more than the sum of its parts—to echo and sediment. Each beginning finds the audience still warm, as well as refreshed.

      A white screen displays few key sentences, witty or whimsical, ironic, elusive. They appear now and then, mostly in the beginning, to provide a suggestion of route, loosely point at directions—rather an additional color or texture than a set of subtitles. The last projected phrase says something like, “Dogs have looked after humans since the start, not in order to protect their property, but for their integrity not to be stolen.” If indeed a dog trots on stage, coolly strolling among dancers, seemingly whenever he wants, the quote works as a summary for the entire performance, which evolves from an Amazon.com-inspired world-in-boxes—a collective submerged by packaging, drowning into an ocean of trash bags, rained upon with detritus and garbage—through a humorous, yet poignantly clear-eyed exploration of social interactions via mock pas-de-deux, mock-fights, fashion shows, leader-follower games, to a final bonfire where dancers in turns narrate their life story through motion.

      standing in front of audience holding hands

      (L-R) Danielle Agami, Chris Hahn, Nat Wilson, Bronte Mayo, Jobel Medina, Isaiah Gage, Cacia LaCount, Montay Romero, Evan Sagadencky, Jordyn Santiago and Paige Amicon (Photo – Rob LaTour/Shutterstock)

      Dialoguing with companions, with space, with the music, with the public

      Each dancer tells their own life story, sotto voce and brash, intimate and daring, ten bravuras that leave us spellbound as much because of their artistry as because of their total idiosyncrasy. We have the feeling, as each dancer takes center stage, then expands such center to an arabesque of triumphant peripheries, dialoguing with companions, with space, with the music, with the public, yet proffering the most personal and powerful monologue, that no one in the world can possibly dance their way. Ten of them, impeccably tuned, perfect-pitch-together. But they are unique, irreducible. As, we are reminded, we all are.

      To define this piece “entertainment” would be obviously diminishing. The compound of aural, visual and kinetic engages our mind, emotions and senses so completely that we are transported elsewhere. Lifted. The effect is not amusement, though there are hilarious moments, and laughter now and then simply explodes in the house. But the feeling that Joy stirs is the exhilaration perceived by the body as a whole, suddenly, because of the sheer awareness of being fully alive. That pure, primal blessing.

      Tickets: $39-$99
      The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
      9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills 
      Parking under theatre: $8 flat fee

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