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Dance review: David Rousseve's 'Stardust' a revelation at REDCAT

Dance review: David Rousseve's 'Stardust' a revelation at REDCAT
Dancers in David Rousseve's latest dance-theater piece, "Stardust," at REDCAT. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The most startling – and stunning – moment in David Roussève's latest dance-theater hybrid, "Stardust," came an hour into the 80-minute intermissionless piece, which premiered Tuesday at REDCAT.

The 53-year-old choreographer appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to perform a heartwrenching solo set to Johnny Mathis crooning the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.”

With his jerking, swooping arms and quasi-angelic face, Roussève, bathed in Christopher Kuhl's amber light, and bending and dipping as if the world's weight were on his shoulders, was spellbinding.

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Rooted to the floor, he made every gesture a plea, a struggle and a fervent quest for love and acceptance, as video projections – a series of unanswered text messages written by an unseen African American gay teen ("I try b gangsta," "Plz help me") – described a terrifying molestation.

Crouching, then crumpling to the floor, Roussève slid off the stage, painstakingly pushing himself backwards, not to be seen again – in the flesh, that is. His Skype video appearances as “Granpa,” appearing throughout the work, also proved him a skilled thespian. 

A storyteller for the 21st century, Roussève gave his 10-member company, Reality, much to say through his distinct movement vocabulary, a jazz/hip-hop/neo-pedestrian fusion and the stream of tweets - poignant, witty, earnest – a revelation of the soul.  The performance was part of Radar L.A., the citywide theater festival featuring 18 productions.

Fierce performers all, this troupe of self-described "ghetto angels" often navigated the stage in unison, their defiant marching/stomping a recurring motif.  Roussève's canny use of music – from an array of Nat King Cole numbers, including "Mona Lisa" and Hoagy Carmichael's iconic, "Stardust," to d. Sabela grimes' original electronic score and sound design – enhanced each dancer's moves.

Kevin Williamson, a study in fluid lyricism, was also commanding, with crisp turns and effortless jumps, his partnering infused with a melting longing. Taisha Paggett, when not giving attitude, was a master of expansive emotions, her outstretched arms and one-legged balancing the embodiment of grace. Nehara Kalev and Nguyen Nguyên, also vessels of authenticity, found depth in a cocked head, breezy smile or high kick. Kevin Le’s hip-hop solo, both smooth and jagged, featured a kind of faux locking that added punch to Roussève’s singular vision.

Giving hope to the invisible teen was his grandfather's video-dispensed wisdom, his love of "Vincen van gos," and being a "romantix," as filtered through those '50s and '60s ballads. Cari Ann Shim Sham's video art, including lush imagery of a night sky, a bird taking flight and a disco ball's starburst patterns, never overpowered, but added dreaminess to the dancers' full-throttle engagement.

From the work's opening text messages – "Sup," "I want a BFF" – to the final verb/noun, "Cry" (dramaturgy by Lucy Burns), "Stardust" delivers a transcendent coming-of-age tale of universality, aspiration and identity. #Plz go.

David Roussève/Reality, "Stardust," REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A., Wed., Fri., 7 p.m., Sat., 2 p.m., Sun., 8:30 p.m., $15-$25; (213) 237-2800; www.redcat.org

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