Imagine traversing the streets of Los Angeles, absorbing the city’s succulents, stucco dwellings, synagogues, psychics, spas and endless expanse of signage from a slow-moving vehicle. There are no other cars on the road, no people in sight, except for a vast array of painted faces on murals. This was the video backdrop to Raiford Rogers’ latest work, “Transcription,” beautifully performed by his 10-member troupe, Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet, on Saturday at Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Fine Arts Complex.
Set to Busoni’s piano transcription of a familiar Bach violin chaconne, the 15-minute piece was an orgy of solos, duets and trios, the dancers appearing less like inhabitants of the city than its very own beating heart. Whether executing rigorous one-legged turns, arabesque-like friezes or mighty pirouettes, the troupe offered a near-idyllic vision of the City of Angels.
Veronica Caudillo’s gorgeous extensions, Bobby Briscoe’s majestic partnering, Tekla Kostek’s adagio of controlled pivots and Reid Bartelme’s elegant line popped against the languidly unspooling digital video (a collaboration among Anne Trelease, Mark Bowen and Rogers). A quartet of women -- Merett Miller, Jean Michelle Sayeg, Lillian Bitkoff and Kostek -- also proved durable, their unisonous backward dips and forward bends a schizoid homage to the city’s fickle nature.
There was potent partnering as well, with Nathan Griswold and Alexis Maragozis, and Christian Broomhall and Bitkoff, where the recurring motif of women-slung-over-men’s-shoulders became a tableau of empowerment/resignation.
Rogers’ other premiere, “Sonata No. 2,” performed to Bohuslav Martinu, allowed the dancers full visibility (no video to lure the eye), the bare-chested males hot in red trunks, the women in red maillots (costumes by Yumiko). Although the choreographer’s spare movement vocabulary -- the warping of classical ballet steps -- is limited, fine spinning and fugal gambits propelled the 16-minute work, which showcased Caudillo. With Bitkoff, the pair offered staggered plies; in an extraordinary goddess-type solo, Caudillo’s sweeping arms and intense balancing poses awed. Her duet with Briscoe, bathed in Monique L’Heureux’s sumptuous lighting, assumed heroic proportions, a manhandling aspect deliciously finessed.
Last year’s “Concertante,” reviewed previously, also fueled with collective passion and stamina, completed the well-received program.