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Review: Danielle Agami's 'Old/News' blends fresh and familiar at Temple Israel of Hollywood

Review: Danielle Agami's 'Old/News' blends fresh and familiar at Temple Israel of Hollywood
A performance of L.A. based Israeli dancer-choreographer Danielle Agami's new works with her troupe Ate9. Her works are part of the contemporary Israeli dance form called GAGA, which uses vernacular motions,some humorous, absurd and/or shocking, as part of their performances. (Cheryl Mann Productions)

Love is an unwieldy thing. But Danielle Agami’s Ate9 masters both the highs and lows throughout “Old/News,” which opened at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Saturday.

The double bill, featuring a remount of Agami’s “Sally Meets Stu” and her latest work, “Framed,” continues through Monday as part of the L.A.-based dance company’s 2018-2019 season opener.

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“Sally Meets Stu” — updated for “Old/News” with a blend of new and original Ate9 cast members — darts, snakes and dashes through several iterations of a fictional love story: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they have sex and things build or unravel from there. In one scenario, the figurative Stu turns out to be a knife-wielding lover. In another, Sally’s memory turns out to be a tragically frail thing.

With a touch of deadpan cynicism, writer-performer Nadav Heyman narrates the curve balls of their hypothetical relationships, as nine dancers undulate, pulsate and pose to his imaginings. Sometimes the dancers become stand-ins for the couple — the men often carry the women like brides across an invisible threshold.

Other times they’re more abstract approximations, resembling elegant Grecian statues or firing off like frenetic neurons. As dejected lovers attempting to process the pain of heartache, they transition fluidly from animal-like squats and crawls to higher order arabesques and penchés with spectacularly superhuman speed.

As Heyman’s stories remind us, relationships are messy — but Ate9’s illustration of them is absolutely flawless.

If “Sally Meets Stu” is a study of maligned couples, then “Framed” is a more introspective look at single life. In her solo work (which is making its L.A. premiere), Agami constructs a quirky and clownish world. She brings out a tray to distribute movie-theater concessions to the audience, drizzles chocolate sauce over pretzels, drinks a cocktail straight from the shaker and strikes down an inflatable punching bag again and again.

Sometimes Agami’s shenanigans can feel like absurdist parlor tricks, but she performs with enough of a wink and a nod that they can be forgiven. They actually punctuate a loose narrative: Agami introduces herself as if on a first date, pulls Ate9 executive director Jordan Klitzke in to dance with her (awkwardly) — and when that doesn’t work out — tosses him aside and turns to chocolate. This is comfort food, breakup-style, and perhaps more pleasurable than an out-of-sync partner.

Agami’s parting message to us — “go” — could be interpreted as a bitter one, the order of someone sending her lover away. But it could also be read as the confident cry of a woman who knows herself and knows when it’s better to be alone.

Either way, her choreographic vision throughout “Old/News” asserts itself as marvelously self-possessed.

***

‘Old/News’

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 21 and 8 p.m. Oct. 22

Where: Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

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