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Dance review: Helios Dance Theater's 'The Lotus Eaters'

April 5, 2009 |  5:51 pm

Anyone who wants to make a dance about indolence has a problem. Dance is movement; indolence is not. So choreographer Laura Gorenstein Miller set a task for herself and her Helios Dance Theater when crafting “The Lotus Eaters.” This 10-part work, about 75 minutes long, premiered Friday at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.

Billed as a contemporary take on what is a brief episode in Homer’s “Odyssey,” Miller’s piece tells the story of Odysseus’ storm-tossed sailors cast up on an unknown island on their way home from the 10-year Trojan War. A few crewmembers eat the narcotic fruit that grows there and soon forget about home, duty and honor.

Miller presented the work in preview in October at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. But in collaboration with her 10 dancers, she reworked and expanded it for the Broad Stage. Her imagination, she said in a Times interview, was first sparked by seeing pieces of jewelry inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Lotus Eaters.” Further research led to Homer.

In Tennyson, the sailors choose to stay on the island. In Homer, the sailors are dragged back, weeping, to their ship, cast in irons and thrown under the rowers’ benches, as Odysseus and his crew flee as quickly as possible. Unlike either source, Miller made the Lotus Eaters predatory; but like Homer, she let her sailors escape.

The dance began swiftly, with five leather-clad guys bounding and vaulting onto the stage, like dangerous, merciless warriors. Soon they met five languorous women in silvery tunics. With elbows and wrists bent in images evoking praying mantises, the women plucked invisible fruit out of the air and fed it to the sailors who fell at their feet in a dangerous swoon.

All that happened in about the first 10 minutes. So what was left to do? There followed slow duets and group sections, in which dancers carried one another on their backs, wrapped themselves in sensuous embrace or executed difficult partnering moves.

Eventually to change the pace, there irrupted an energized group section, followed by an agonized solo for Sandra Chiu suggesting that the Lotus Eaters were themselves victims; then, seemingly out of nowhere, Chris Stanley’s solo in which he dragged himself across the floor. This part was labeled “home.”
Miller’s choreography was sometimes ingenious, but it did not long sustain interest. The dancers, most of whom were new to the company, worked diligently.

Rob Cairns composed the pre-recorded music, with Grant-Lee Phillips singing several of his original songs. Rami Kashou designed the costumes along stylish, classical Greek tunic lines. Alison Van Pelt created the flowering tree backdrop.

Whatever its virtues for music, speech or drama, the Broad has a problem with sightlines for dance. From a seat midway back in the orchestra section, one saw the heads of the audience in the front rows popping half-way above the edge of the stage. They looked, whimsically, like old-fashioned stage-light covers.

One could more or less adjust to this fact. Still, the net effect was to prevent viewing a dancer’s body complete from head to toe, which creates a major difficulty in appreciating choreography. Because the seats cannot be lowered, this looks to be a permanent issue at the Broad, which otherwise is so accommodating to performer and audience. For all that, the audience seemed delighted with the Helios Dance Theater performance.

-- Chris Pasles


 
Comments () | Archives (4)

Wow...for an LA reviewer, you aren't very supportive! How about mentioning the top notch production values in every aspect of a modern dance production. The Lotus Eaters was absolutely top drawer in all ways. The choreography (as you note a difficult challenge in such a piece) was varied, interesting, made excellent use of the stage size both vertically and horizontally, and was technically very challenging for the dancers. I was left wanting to see more--much more of this company and its choreographer. Los Angeles has at least one more world class modern dance company...you should be proud!

This was an astounding production on every level. I experienced gasps from my fellow audience members during the performance as we watched the many pieces - and we were in the very back of the theatre. The context of the inspiration was indeed informative and inspiring but in no way necessary to my enjoying it's impact. Helios is an important and innovative company that deserve support and patronage on every level. To diminish it is beyond my understanding and undermines the audiences obvious love of the work. They stood and applauded for an eternity. Los Angeles is lucky to have such a choreographer as Gorenstein-Miller to call it's own.

What a pointless review. It's as if the reviewer slept through the performance. In a time when newspapers are hurting for sales, you'd imagine they would step up their game. Instead, it seems the L.A. Times are waving the white flag of surrender. Try a little harder next time. I saw the show, I loved the show and there was definitely more to discuss than bad site lines. Well done Helios Dance Theater. Helios Dance Theater 7 - L.A. Times 0

One might argue the point that you had more issue with the Broad than you did the actual show. I would hope the LA Times could do a better job of hiring a writer who is professional enough to focus on what they're actually there to do. As a fellow audience member, I was able to see just fine (Row G, 19) and found your review to be mediocre at best.

"Miller’s choreography was sometimes ingenious, but it did not long sustain interest. The dancers, most of whom were new to the company, worked diligently. " -CP

This statement alone is a farce and it's too bad you could not see beyond your own arrogance to see that just about everyone in that theater except for you were riveted with the whole performance. Not to mention that the dancers, new or former members of the company, performed with such grace in the midst of some very challenging choreography all the while making each piece seamless and effortless. The control and level of technique were comparable to any other professional show I have seen in LA in the past 5 years.
Keep up the great work Helios, LA loves you!


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