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Review: For Jacob Jonas and his dancers, a night of teaching and preaching

Review: For Jacob Jonas and his dancers, a night of teaching and preaching
Jacob Jonas the Company premieres "There's Been a Study," a treatise on a flawed educational system, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. (Lawrence K. Ho)

Jacob Jonas, the precocious 27-year-old artistic director of Jacob Jonas the Company, has much to say in his robust fusion of acrobatics, ballet, modern and street dance. He’s like the child who trips over his words — who can’t get it all out fast enough — in celebrating beauty while righting the injustices of the world.

Bravo to youthful exuberance — and to a willingness to make mistakes. Because with profusion there will be clunkers, and such was the case on the weekend program at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

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First, the good news. That would be “viceversa,” an inter-generational collaboration between Jonas and choreographer Daniel Ezralow that was a tightly crafted piece of poignant restraint and symbolism. A graduate of University High School in L.A., Ezralow left the city to perform and choreograph on the East Coast (Paul Taylor, Momix) and then in Europe. Jonas is a Beverly Hills High alum who came of age in an L.A. that is more hospitable to someone putting down dance roots.

You could draw a stylistic line from Ezralow, who is in his early 60s, to Jonas. They share a love of oversize athleticism and plain-spoken themes.

Daniel Ezralow, foreground, and Jacon Jonas in "viceversa" at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
Daniel Ezralow, foreground, and Jacon Jonas in "viceversa" at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. (Lawrence K. Ho)

In “viceversa,” they use quiet moves to plumb the joys and bittersweet connections of artists and men at staggered life stages. They hug, becoming father and son, then separate, to express themselves in signature gestures.

Jonas, his long hair cascading over his face, jiggles in a light-footed jogging style. He repeatedly carries Ezralow upstage and downstage, doubling over to exaggerate the burden. Lithe and fit, Ezralow dives into a front head roll, minus hands, and undulates his arms in sinuous symmetry. He briefly freezes in a bent-over running pose, which dance photographer Lois Greenfield made famous some 40 years ago when she captured Ezralow similarly positioned, a smiling baby in his outstretched hand.

Set to recorded music by the Necks, “viceversa” is full of signposts. Even if they slip past unnoticed, the cumulative effect is of worldly wisdom lovingly packaged.

"There Been a Study."
"There Been a Study." (Lawrence K. Ho)

The other premiere, “There’s Been a Study,” had the opposite effect. A preachy treatise on the flaws in our educational system, “Study” trips up on kinetic expressiveness that is overly literal and on a didactic, poorly written narration (spoken by the exceptional Georgia Bryan, a 15-year-old dancer-contortionist).

Jonas batters the viewer over the head with dreary agitprop. The cast of nine cavorts about on school desks, vainly raising arms to be recognized. Nicole Miglis’ electronic musical soundscape and live vocalizations only increased the stifling atmosphere. The one bright spot was a clever solo by Mike Tyus, his arm continually popping up overhead. It’s debatable whether such a topic could be molded into a dance — but this was a study in how not to do it.

“To the Dollar,” which the company debuted in April, skirts a similar line, but then stops just in time. Three mixed gender couples perform in unison to the recorded accompaniment of Elizabeth Warren giving a 2016 speech on equal pay. The vigorous performances, mostly well-synced, make this piece palatable. Joy Isabella Brown and Lorrin Brubaker were standouts here and all evening.

Members of Jacob Jonas the Company perform "To the Dollar" at the Wallis.
Members of Jacob Jonas the Company perform "To the Dollar" at the Wallis. (Lawrence K. Ho)

Reserved and beautiful, the 2018 piece “Crash” shows that Jonas can manipulate many bodies to tell a visual story and avoid cliché potholes. “Crash” could easily have become maudlin; its inspiration is the motion of the ocean. Yet, Jonas winds up with a tone poem of majestic grace. He had help from singer and master instrumentalist Okaidja Afroso, who performed onstage, and from his exceptional dancers, who manage to tame gravity and transform themselves into the never-ending ebb and flow of water.

Jacob Jonas the Company performing "Crash."
Jacob Jonas the Company performing "Crash." (Lawrence K. Ho)

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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