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Review: Jacob Jonas explored the tumult of human nature and the environment in a sublime performance

Review: Jacob Jonas explored the tumult of human nature and the environment in a sublime performance
"Transfer" by Jacob Jonas, with Jill Wilson and Mike Tyus. (Lawrence K. Ho)

In less than five years, Jacob Jonas The Company has vaulted from an Instagram-famous entity to the 2018-2019 dance company-in-residence of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

To celebrate its residency and L.A. origins, the company known for blending breakdance and ballet showcased an ambitious program of world premieres from Wednesday to Saturday at the Beverly Hills performing arts venue.

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Friday’s performance began with Jonas’ “Transfer,” an architecturally beautiful if myopic view of interpersonal relationships.

In the piece, Jonas’ partner and co-founder of JJTC, Jill Wilson, is a muse and object of manipulation for four male dancers. Jacob “Kujo” Lyons sculpts her like Pygmalion perfecting his ideal woman, Mike Tyus drags her across the floor and Jonas himself lifts her as if she were a piece of furniture. Ultimately, Wilson is the dance’s redeeming quality, uncannily finding the inner strength to push away would-be suitors, contort herself into magnificent geometries or dash like quicksilver into the openings of Lamonte Goode’s arms.

“Transfer” may hover in an uncomfortable register, but its sculptural beauty cannot be denied.

Meanwhile, “Unknown Territories” by Jonas’ mentor Donald Byrd showed the intense side of Jonas’ choreographic roots.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA. OCT. 23, 2018. "Transfer" by Jacob Jonas; (l-r) Jacob ?Kujo? Lyons, Jill Wilson. Jacob Jonas The Company returns to The Wallis as the 18/19 Season Company-in-Residence.
BEVERLY HILLS, CA. OCT. 23, 2018. "Transfer" by Jacob Jonas; (l-r) Jacob ?Kujo? Lyons, Jill Wilson. Jacob Jonas The Company returns to The Wallis as the 18/19 Season Company-in-Residence. (Lawrence K. Ho)

Dancers slice through the air, jabbing their elbows and stomping their feet, eyeing each other with suspicion as a heart-pounding mix by Avi Belleli beats on. The dancers seem to thwart danger by exploding into territorial displays of dance — fierce duets and trios where they struggle for primacy.

Yet “Unknown Territories’” is most powerful in its vulnerable moments — when Emma Rosenzweig-Bock rests her head against her hand like a mother in deep mourning or Jonas tenderly cradles Wilson’s head against his chest. When wisps of human connection appear they are gorgeous.

The Jacob Jonas company moves into more playful territory in the second half of its program.

Wilson, donning a winged black and tan leotard, transforms into the mythic sprite of human infatuation in Omar Román de Jesús’ “Cupido,” a fluid and cheeky jaunt through love’s charms and travails that Wilson, Lorrin Brubaker and Rosenzweig-Bock execute gamely.

“Make a Toast” even invites audience members to come up on stage and pay tribute to someone who has affected their lives. Accompanied by Jonas’ pre-choreographed solos for five company members, the participatory work turned not only into a spontaneous celebration of the audience, but also of Los Angeles on Friday night — a local philosophy student praised her friend for overcoming great adversity, a middle-aged woman wearing a Dodgers T-shirt spoke lovingly of her departed grandmother, and one man even paid tribute to The Times’ late food critic Jonathan Gold.

A cynic might roll eyes at this impromptu open mic, but in the Wallis’ intimate Lovelace Studio Theater it created a warm sense of community, much like Jonas has done in L.A.’s dance world through his #CamerasandDancers Instagram meet-ups.

For “Crash,” in particular, Jonas — who cut his teeth breakdancing on the Venice Boardwalk and counts the ocean as a muse — has absorbed his L.A. influences and mixed them to astounding effect.

At the piece’s genesis, a single man rolls on the floor like a castaway just washed ashore. Gradually, more dancers join him, creating a marvelous human wave — limbs rise and fall, middles undulate like seaweed, backs bend into the crescent shape of breaking waves.

Eventually, the ensemble of seven floods the entire stage with their sinuous movement — spiking their human swells with jumps reminiscent of flying fish breaking the ocean’s surface.

The Pacific’s intensity is certainly present, but a confident calm resonates throughout, aided by the soothing voice of West Ghanaian instrumentalist Okaidja Afroso.

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As “Crash’s” final duet culminates with a breathtaking crawl of two dancers toward a fading light, a sense of the sublime washes over the audience.

Few choreographers could recreate a sunset on stage, yet Jonas has managed the impossible.

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