Livingston asks some big questions

Times Staff Writer

An hourlong meditation on the impermanence of dance and the isolation of the artist, “Leaving (Evidence)” may be the most forthright and searching self-examination ever launched by a member of the local dance community.

Choreographed by Loretta Livingston under a City of Los Angeles Individual Artist Fellowship, it received its premiere on Saturday at the L.A. Theatre Center -- a premiere in which Livingston’s seven-member ensemble managed to make unforgettable a work about leaving no trace. At the opening and other points during the hour we saw the members of Loretta Livingston and Dancers desperately scribbling on a backdrop made from what looked like long, tangled strips of paper -- their messages or graffiti always completely invisible.

Designed by Liz Stillwell, that backdrop also served as a projection screen on which videotapes by Kate Johnson and Michael Masucci/EZTV linked ghostly footage of the dancers to images of evanescence: pages burning, or footsteps in the sand being wiped away by surf.


The dancers also furiously and invisibly scribbled in the air, on the floor and across one another’s bodies -- bodies on which arms, legs and chests had been marked with large, printed words: “Details,” “Waiting,” “Advance,” “Breathing” and so on.

The dancers’ tattoo-like body-texts and all their failed attempts to write themselves into the landscape raised the first big questions of the evening: Are dancers forever marked by other people’s words (including the words you’re reading right now), and are words about dance all that dance leaves behind?

The wish or need to make dancing yield tangible artifacts also periodically found expression in passages showing dancers moving or lying on large paper panels while being outlined in black ink, rather like murder victims at crime scenes.

But does a tracing of the superb Patrick Damon Rago convey how he explodes into space or meets every other dancer as if consumed by the relationship? Not nearly, so the answers that Livingston provided to her questions involved engulfing, sustained, large-scale surges of motion that allowed the dancers to trace themselves in our consciousness, write themselves into memory, mark themselves as artists.

However, Livingston herself remained aloof from this kind of dancing: the eternal, indispensable outsider, inspiring the movement of the others but carefully guiding, correcting and judging the results. Only in her fabulously liquid solos could she shed her role as teacher and critic to let us see everything that made her a dancer to begin with -- and made the pure dance sequences in “Leaving (Evidence)” so thrilling.

The four-member Robin Cox Ensemble accompanied the performance, playing scores by Cox, Leslie Hogan, Joseph Koykkar and Mark Grey. Recorded music by Alejandro Vinao also contributed to this supremely accomplished look at a life dedicated to creating experiences that connect us all to something greater than ourselves but then immediately vanish.