Dallas — Everyone in the dance industry knows that if you want to make it big as a commercial dancer then Los Angeles is the place to be. After all LA is the home base for numerous national dance conventions and competitions, including LA Dance Magic, Tremaine and JUMP as well as prominent dance entertainment companies such as Break The Floor Productions, and also the host city for many popular T.V. dance shows, including So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With the Stars and the latest season of Dance Moms. But what many people don’t know is that LA also has a blossoming contemporary concert dance scene thanks in large part to the young and imaginative minds that make up Bodytraffic Contemporary Dance Company.
Founded in 2007 by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, Bodytraffic is helping establish LA as a major center for contemporary dance with its uniquely diverse group of dancers and an expansive repertory of works by notable choreographers, including Kyle Abraham, Sidra Bell, Sarah Elgart, Barak Marshall, Victor Quijada, Hofesh Shechter, Richard Siegal, Guy Weizman and even our very own Joshua L. Peugh of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The company was listed in Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2013 and was also named “Best of Culture” by the Los Angeles Times.
A native New Yorker, Tina Finkelman Berkett trained under Michele Cuccaro Cain before attending Barnard College, Columbia University. After graduation Berkett joined Aszure Barton & Artists and performed with the company throughout the United States, including Jacob’s Pillow and Spoleto Festivals. She later became Barton’s assistant and taught alongside her both in the U.S. and abroad. Berkett was also one of the founding members of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Hell’s Kitchen Dance. In need of a change, Berkett moved to LA in 2007 where she met Lillian Barbeito and together founded Bodytraffic.
Dallas audiences will get the chance to see this dynamic company in action when Bodytraffic comes to the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Friday night as part of the TITAS series. The program includes three diverse pieces by three international choreographers, including Marshall’s And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square…, Shechter’s Dust and Siegal’s O2Joy.
TheaterJones asks Tina Finkelman Berkett about establishing a contemporary dance company in a city known for its commercialized dance scene, building a repertory of emerging national and international choreographers and what audiences can expect at this Friday’s performance in Dallas.
TheaterJones: Did you set out for LA with the intention of starting a company once you were settled?
Not in the least! I grew up in New York and it was always my dream to dance in a big repertory company. Every December my dance teacher would take us to see Alvin Ailey at the New York City Center and I just remember being so impressed with the dancers’ ability to go from one choreographer’s work to another. And it always appealed to me to hone in on that kind of diversity as a dancer and not just be good at any one thing. And when I was 22 years old I finished Barnard a year early and was touring with Baryshnikov’s Hell’s Kitchen Dance when my now husband proposed to me and asked me to move to LA with him. So, I found myself in LA still with that big dream of being in a company, but that company didn’t exist in Los Angeles at that time.
So, when I met Lillian at a ballet class and she asked me if I wanted to start something, I remember thinking that was the last thing I ever wanted to do. But I have to tell you that looking back it is crazy how much we have accomplished and I couldn’t feel any luckier that I had to make my own experience. I mean, not only do we get to hand pick the choreographers that we work with, but then we also get to hand pick the dancers that we do this with. Every day is a custom made experience and it is the ultimate joy for me that I get to do this for a living. I feel endlessly lucky that we are now finding this kind of success and that people want to be on this train with us. I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished.
Where does Bodytraffic fit in today’s expansive LA dance scene?
I like to think we are helping establish Los Angeles as a center for contemporary dance. We actually just completed a whole new branding campaign that says “when you think Los Angeles you think dance.” And I like to believe that we are helping that effort. It’s nice when I get an email from someone that says, “Hey I’m coming out to LA and a friend of mine told me I should get in touch with Bodytraffic and see what you guys are up to.” I love the idea that we are becoming synonymous with Los Angeles dance. I have seen the dance scene here change so much over the last decade, what with LA Dance Project starting a couple years back and watching other local contemporary companies raising their bar and becoming more well known around the country. And I think that because the world is getting smaller thanks to social media it’s really changing people’s perceptions about dance in LA.
What is the significance behind the name Bodytraffic?
It has always been our idea to help change the face of Los Angeles dance. We get asked quite often why we didn’t name the company after ourselves and the truth is that this just goes so far beyond the two of us. And we always had high hopes that we would go out into the world and tour extensively so we wanted to have a name that really represented LA. And if you have been to LA then you understand that the traffic is a big part of our lives here.
I know Joshua L. Peugh from Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance set a work on Bodytraffic not too long ago. What drew you to his work?
It’s a testament to Josh’s work to know that he is the only choreographer we have ever commissioned who submitted their work to us and who we didn’t pursue. You see my co-director Lillian and I have this bucket list of choreographers that we want to work with and we are slowly crossing names off that list in our effort to make the kind of work that we are really excited about. He sent in a video of Slump and we just thought that this was exactly what we needed at that time. In every piece of repertory that we add we really want it to be distinctively different from anything else, but also complement the rest of the repertory. We were so excited to work with Josh and his piece has been wildly successful. I mean it just goes to show that dance audiences today are really looking for a dance experience that is entertaining and accessible. Another reason why Josh is a really great fit for Bodytraffic is because his work really shows the characters of our company.
Would you say the three works on Friday’s program are prime examples of Bodytraffic’s strength and versatility?
It is important to us no matter where we are performing that we show the versatility of Bodytraffic. The number one thing we want people to walk away and feel they learned about the company is that we want people to be impressed with the fact that we do three for four very different pieces on any given weekend, and is a testament to the dancers’ virtuosity. So, this program includes two works that have really become signatures for the company, Barak Marshall’s And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square… and Richard Siegal’s O2Joy.
Both those pieces were made in 2012 and premiered at the Joyce in New York in June of 2012, and both really give you a window into Bodytraffic. Marshall’s piece is a dance theater work where you get introduced to all the company members while Siegal’s O2Joy is all about percussion and syncopation and American Jazz music, and you really get to see the comradery of our dancers. You get to see how we love to do what we do with each other. And in the middle of those two works is Hofesh Shechter’s Dust. Lillian and I were really excited to work with him and we had a beautiful creation period with him. This piece is a darker more thoughtful contemporary piece that we think really rounds out the evening’s program. We want people to feel like they have gone on a journey on what’s happening around the world in contemporary dance, and Hofesh’s piece really anchors our program in that way. You really get to see the prowess of our dancers and their physical ability in a different way compared to the other works.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com