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L.A.'s Body Traffic wins $25,000 Joyce Theater Foundation grant

February 16, 2012 | 11:35 am

Body Traffic
In flagrant disregard of its own name, Body Traffic, the Los Angeles contemporary dance company, is racing ahead, as though on a congestion-free commute across the Santa Monica Freeway. The 4-year-old troupe has just been awarded a $25,000 “commissioning grant” from the New York City-based Joyce Theater Foundation.

Let’s shift to reverse gear, and back this story up. Last January, Body Traffic’s close collaborator, choreographer Barak Marshall, in tandem with the dancers, garnered first prize in “The A.W.A.R.D. Show,” co-produced by the Joyce and REDCAT. The $10,000 prize got earmarked for a new Marshall-Body Traffic collaboration. 

The Joyce is now doubling down on the Traffickers, extending an additional $25,000 to underwrite Marshall’s piece. It will premiere June 5-6, during Body Traffic’s two-night stint at the Joyce Theater’s annual Gotham Dance Festival. 

Body Traffic represents the dance company of the future, according to the Joyce. The theater’s executive director, Linda Shelton, said by phone from New York: “We are a bit concerned by the model of the single artistic director company. In many, many cases it’s absolutely fine, but we see cracks in the model.” 

“Two years ago, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation invited us to apply for a generous grant. We put a restriction on ourselves that we were only going to work with repertory companies.”

What Shelton suggests is a shift in paradigm for American modern dance. The whole ballgame has been boutique dance companies fostering the proprietary vision of a single choreographer. (Hubbard Street Dance of Chicago, Utah's Repertory Dance Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are notable exceptions.)  

“We’ve been studying how theater is made,” Shelton said. “You have a producer, or a director, putting together a collaborative team; you have many, many opportunities to say it’s not working out. Or, if there is no market interest or demand, you can change gears. In dance, work is usually made in isolation without feedback in the process.

“With very limited resources the pressure [on single choreographers] is enormous. It’s unrealistic to assume one choreographer can do that year in and year out.”

Body Traffic co-director Tina Berkett, a native New Yorker, is pleased by the Joyce commission. “In a way, wow, we did it, we did what we set out to accomplish [since launching the company in 2007]. We have a thriving dance company so much so that we can go to New York City and perform at this theater.”

Co-director Lillian Barbeito, a Juilliard graduate, added: “I am especially thrilled to work with Barak; it’s a culmination of a relationship that has been developed over years. He is one of the most distinctive choreographers working today.”

Other works planned for the company’s New York debut include a premiere from a William Forsythe protégé, choreographer Richard Siegal, an American working in Europe who makes highly fluid, musical works. Belgian dance maker Stijn Celis’ “Fragile Dwellings,” inspired by Los Angeles homelessness, which premiered at the Luckman Theatre last spring, will round out the program.

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-- Debra Levine

Photo: Body Traffic co-director Tina Berkett watches choreographer Andrea Miller during a 2009 Body Traffic rehearsal. Credit: Cristina House / For The Times

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