New work by choreographer Jamar Roberts ‘Lineage’

It begins with a flutter, a flap, a wave – an angel. At the opening of Jamar Roberts’ new work “Lineage,” the company LA Dance Project comes together as hands around the world shake their hands together. The moment soon descends into chaos. New groups form, stiff and precise, moving one limb at a time at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, the other transitions are transferred from one stage to the next.

Nayomi Van Brunt breaks through the cacophony of bodies, diving into the arms of two fellow dancers. Her head and body turn to look at the audience as they hold her body back. A moment later, he was surrounded by flowing hands that transformed the collective into a larger creature, angelic – one that you can not look away from.

Roberts, who used to be a dancer and is now a choreographer, didn’t know what work he was commissioning with LA Dance Project when he started rehearsing with the company. Unlike most commissions, which usually start with a week or two of rehearsal, he was given five weeks in the studio before a performance weekend. He took that to his advantage.

“I usually come in prepared and I already know what the piece is about and everything,” says Roberts. “But here I was not.” He prefers it this way, he says, because “the work really becomes who’s in the room, and not me.”

The result was “Lineage,” a work being presented with artists-in-residence Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber’s “Quartet for Five” at LADP through Saturday – now sold out. Over the course of several weeks in the studio, Roberts’ world-renowned work made an abstract dive into the psyche, informed by dreams of his grandmother. Through this, it makes a great portrait of the relationship with other people and with oneself.

Before venturing to the downtown LA studio, Roberts was Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s resident choreographer from 2019 to 2022—arranging five critically acclaimed works. He was with the company since 2002 and retired from dancing in 2021. And in February 2022, he made his choreographic debut at the New York City Ballet after a quarantine spent creating work for the film. Pioneering moments, as well as periods of conflict about what it means to be in the world of dance right now, have guided his long journey to becoming a choreographer. His years at Alvin Ailey helped him express his vision while allowing the dancers to maintain their own style; both are central to LADP’s mission.

Portrait of Choreographer Jamar Roberts

Jamar Roberts was Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s resident choreographer from 2019 to 2022 – arranging five critically acclaimed works. He now has an excellent show with LA Dance Project.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Roberts often takes a more intuitive approach to choreography, looking for what will help artists interpret the movements. This may involve using unusual phrases (such as “SpongeBob” and “stop sign”) as a way to lighten the mood and create signs for a certain section. “I can’t be myself in the room,” says Roberts. “I’m naturally very awkward and silly.”

To create “Lineage”, he started thinking about recurring themes – like angels – and how that idea translated into his movements.

The work includes strength of movement from the upper body, using the arms and swinging across the body like rivers, pulling from the elbow. A sweeping arm then drags the body forward. In a particular sequence, the arms are widely spread on the sides of the body, bending like an umbrella. During a rehearsal in early February, Roberts looks at the movement for a second before ordering the company of dancers to shake their shoulders, clapping.

Lineage dress rehearsal with choreographer Jamar Roberts Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Choreographer Jamar Roberts had a dress rehearsal of “Lineage” on Wednesday in Los Angeles. Roberts developed the work after having recurring dreams about his grandmother, who died 12 years ago.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

“Sometimes I think of arms as wings,” says Roberts. “I was thinking about a celestial being or something, but the way they would communicate is not the way you and I would communicate.”

The pace of performance is often fast. He compared it to James Cameron’s “Avatar” : In the same way that the blue characters connect to the trees through their hair, the characters in his choreography are drawn to move with a similar all-encompassing energy, a higher being, with which they strive to connect to do. to.

The language of movement developed by Roberts is unique in that it will not be revisited. He said he creates a new movement vocabulary for each choreographic work. Nothing created by LA Dance Project will be recycled.

“These steps here, you might never see in any other piece because they are very specific to this work and these dancers,” says Roberts.

In the same rehearsal on February 3, dancers go through a sequence that heavily incorporates arms and hands before their bodies flow to the other side of the stage, one by one. They follow each other with the same choreography, over and over again. Roberts focuses on the theme of genealogy in these moments, grappling with generational trauma that can “ripple over time.”

Roberts developed the work after having recurring dreams about his grandmother, who died 12 years ago. “She is very much at the forefront of my mind, my memory and my life,” he says. He began to explore the “idea that someone can be gone, but still be present in your life in some ways, physically or metaphorically,” he says.

Lineage dress rehearsal with choreographer Jamar Roberts Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Dress rehearsal of “Lineage” with choreographer Jamar Roberts on Wednesday. The theme has a baseline in the avant-garde jazz music set for it.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

The theme also has a three-line in the avant-garde jazz music set to it. “You think about the lineage in the history of jazz music and how Black people created it,” says Roberts. He deliberately tried not to use a popular music artist for dance, such as Mozart. “What about Miles Davis?” he asks. “What about John Coltrane? Dance in America feels so white, I think I have a certain responsibility to bring forward the geniuses of Black music.”

Portrait of Choreographer Jamar Roberts

Portrait of choreographer Jamar Roberts.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

As the dancers broke from the line they had formed up the stage, their movement moved with the meaning of the music. Three made here and a duo glided there. The dream world came to life, with bodies fighting and coming together in a mist. When they reappeared, they revealed David Freeland stretching out his leg and rolling the energy up his spine, settling his chin slowly towards his chest.

At that moment, Roberts runs from his seat to the Marley dance floor. The dancers look over at Roberts as he stands. He let out a soft chuckle and moved through the next step, before finishing prematurely and stepping back.

Okay,” he says, before settling on the next move.

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