By Steve Sucato
Now a decade in, Los Angeles-based BODYTRAFFIC continues to make in-roads to becoming one of nation’s premiere contemporary dance companies. While still not a household name even among dance aficionados, the company’s growing success has company co-founder/artistic director Tina Finkelman Berkett feeling a bit more added pressure because of that success.
“You wish for success, then success comes and everyone has this idea that it comes easy,” says Finkelman Berkett. “But it just keeps getting harder and harder because you have to keep living up to new demands and expectations.”
A full-time company dancer, BODYTRAFFIC’s head of development as well as its co-artistic director, Finkelman Berkett wears a lot of hats which she says these days can be a bit daunting but stimulating. “I think part of why I love our company so much because it continues to be challenging for me and I get to rise to those occasions. The ups and downs “are like this sick beautiful cycle.”
As part of the company’s current busy tour schedule, BODYTRAFFIC will make is Pittsburgh debut to close out the Pittsburgh Dance Council‘s 2017-18 season this Saturday, April 14 at Downtown’s Byham Theater. The company will present four repertory works beginning with Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s “Dust”(2015).
Described as “a dark look at the power and commercialism that steer today’s society,” the 22-minute multimedia work set to a subliminal-message-infused score by Shechter says Finkelman Berkett “Is built on a number of concepts that have to do with cult-like behavior. You see us doing sometimes ritualistic movements and standing in formations that convey that we are being driven by a force that is greater than our own minds.”
In choosing choreographers to work with the company such as Shechter, Finkelman Berkett’s counterpart Lillian Rose Barbeito said in an article in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, “We scour the world, looking for distinct voices.”
Some of those other distinct choreographic voices that have made works for the company include Andrea Miller, Barak Marshall, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano and Pittsburgh-native Kyle Abraham.
“Lillian and I really didn’t know each other when we started BODYTRAFFIC,” Finkelman Berkett. “We basically were two dancers that wanted to present a certain kind of work in LA [Los Angeles]. We joke now that it is unbelievable how lucky we are that all these years later we pretty much have always agreed on dancers and choreographers; we have such similar tastes.”
Where the two differ however is Finkelman Berkett, a former competition dancer in Long Island, grew-up “really liking the light, comedic stuff” where Barbeito likes to “push audiences more” says Finkelman Berkett. “There is a certain part of me that just loves to offer the audience something that they can really walk out smiling with.” Choreographer Richard Siegal’s “o2Joy” (2012) is one of those works. The 17-minute lighthearted and playful work is an expression of exuberance set to an American jazz score featuring music by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. Describing it as bordering on being cheesy, Finkelman Berkett says one can’t deny how physically challenging and interesting “o2Joy” is.
Also on the program will be Joshua L. Peugh’s 15-minute “A Trick of the Light” (2015) inspired by the rare “green flash” phenomenon that occurs just before the sun disappears from view at sunset, and Victor Quijada’s 2014 work “Once Again Before You Go.” (Side Note: Point Park’s Conservatory Dance Company will premiere Peugh’s new “Black Balloons,” April 19-22 at the University’s George Rowland White Performance Studio)
To teach BODYTRAFFIC’s dancers his very specific “RUBBERBAND Method” of moving which combines urban, contemporary and classical principles, Quijada came a month prior to creating the work. The resulting 20-minute piece set to original music by film composer Jasper Gahunia says Finkelman Berkett, is about a woman (danced by her) that is being pursued by several individuals and ends up connecting with one in a duet that ends the piece.
BODYTRAFFIC performs 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14 at the Byham Theater, 101 6th St., $10-60, (412) 456-6666 or trustarts.org.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.