Working in the tradition of epic dance drama, choreographer Grace Dent Balloffet has launched a new company, Dance Aiyetoro, with "Survivors: Women of Troy," based on Euripides' "Trojan Women."
In the Sunday afternoon performance at the Cal State Los Angeles State Playhouse, a small cast of dancers and actors struggled valiantly to embody the physical and emotional depth required for the giant-size grief of Greek tragedy, but it remained as tough a job as it sounds.
In this century, "Trojan Women" has had versions that echo colonial horrors and genocide in Algeria, Vietnam and Hiroshima. With a background in modern and African dance, Balloffet wanted to fuse movement styles to restate the tragedies of war (her company name is Yoruba for "peace on Earth"), but an uneasy mix of media hinders the project.
In "Survivors," women prisoners of war deal with death and enslavement. The dance portions were largely inspired by static poses of Greek vases and bas-relief, featuring side-views of bodies in procession, one arm curved ahead, the other trailing behind.
A chorus of three women often walked circular patterns, arms in bereaved caresses or stretching upward in pleading gestures all too familiar from 19th-Century melodrama.
At one point, Balloffet, as Cassandra, turned elegant Afrocentric sweeps of the arms and head and rhythmical stamping into a poignant lament. Other dancers, asked most often to stretch and fold dramatically, did not have her technique or presence.
Especially disconcerting were transitions from mimed and danced mourning to scenes with wailed spoken text.
A protean score by Jeffrey Silverman and John Bergamo was the heartbeat of the piece, using what sounded like gongs, flutes and drums plus synthesizer to create the kind of seamless, vital fusion the company needs to find in terms of movement and text.