Dean Martin songs like “That’s Amore” play as three men in the Los Angeles dance company BodyTraffic perform solo in a “really fun and light” piece, Artistic Director Tina Finkelman Berkett says, that could connect with audiences who aren’t savvy about dance .
“I try to offer music as an in (to dance),” she says from a tour stop in Beaver Creek, Colo. “Some people have a knowledge of music or some experience of music. And most people have limited knowledge of dance.”
You’ll also find a bit of comedic theater in three out of the four pieces that BodyTraffic will bring, she says, in roughly 90-minute performances Feb. 11-12 at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. It’s the spring season opener for DeBartolo’s Presenting Series, set in the 350-seat Decio Theatre.
In fact, DeBartolo staff didn’t just choose this dance company for its “impeccable” techniques and for the dancers and choreographers who meld everything from ballet to hip-hop in a “melting pot of diversity (that) makes this beautiful,” Sean Martin, associate director of programming and engagement, says.
As well, Martin says, “There’s a humor to their dance; it doesn’t seem like they’re taking themselves too seriously.”
He’d seen the company perform in New York, having heard in the dance world that this was “one to watch.” It marks the one dance offering from DeBartolo this year (normally there’d be two), postponed from last year because of the pandemic.
One of the pieces to be performed, “Snap,” has won funding from the New England Foundation of the Arts, which, he says, helped to make the Notre Dame visit feasible. The choreographer for “Snap,” former BodyTraffic dancer Micaela Taylor, is now in “incredibly high demand as a choreographer,” Finkelman Berkett says.
“’Snap’ is in response to how isolating life is in the age of social media,” Finkelman Berkett says. “It’s an exploration of what it means to fight for identity.”
The mostly hip-hop moves dancers show, on one hand, in various states of angst as they try to express their emotions while the other dancers try to make them conform. They work through the struggle until, in the end, she says, they celebrate freedom and “everyone is grooving.”
The music, written specifically for the piece by Los Angeles composer David Schocke, who goes by the name SHOCKEY, is inspired by the funk and soul of James Brown, known to vary from screaming to intimate notes to joyfulness — a good fit, she says , for the storyline.
Another piece, “(D)elusive Minds,” set to classical music by Franz Schubert, is inspired by the true story of a man in Spain who went to prison for killing his wife while he had delusions that she was an imposter. In prison, he continued to write many letters to his wife.
On stage, the first half of the piece starts with narration about other acts of delusion around the world. And you see the man/woman duet of dancers surrounded by piles of crumpled letters.
The backstory, Finkelman Berkett says, is that choreographer Fernando Hernando Magadan’s brother, a psychiatrist, had counseled the man in prison.
Another piece in the Notre Dame performance, “The One to Stay With,” is still being previewed and tweaked ahead of its premier in New York in early March. Finkelman Berkett describes it as “high energy.” BodyTraffic commissioned the New York dance company, Baye & Asa, which is founded in hip-hop and African dance, to create the piece after she’d noticed the “intensity and dynamic range” of their work in a virtual dance summit during the pandemic .
“It really shows the strengths of our company,” she notes.
The piece with Dean Martin songs, titled “PacoPepePluto,” by Alejandro Cerrudo, features solo male dancers in limited clothing — just a dance belt — so the audience can see the dancers’ full musculature. Tushes will be exposed, but Finkelman Berkett says it isn’t risqué.
A total of 10 dancers will perform at DeBartolo. Of them, only three had danced for BodyTraffic prior to the 18 months that it didn’t perform through the pandemic. Others made career and life changes. The company returned to the road early this past fall. Though living now in Los Angeles, they come from all parts of the country.
As for herself, Finkelman Berkett says, the pandemic has given her a chance to refocus and gain clarity. And now that her long-time co-director has moved on, she feels the confidence to be at the helm of this company that she co-founded in 2007 at the age of 23.
She’s wanted to perform at DeBartolo for several years because of its reputation “for presenting high quality arts.”
“We try to show people there are a lot of faces to dance,” she adds, “and it can be enjoyed.”
• What: Dance company BodyTraffic
• Where: University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center
• When: 7:30 pm Feb. 11-12
• Cost: $32-$15
• COVID protocols: Masks are required.
• For more information: Call 574-631-2800 or visit performingarts.nd.edu.