Friday Nov. 13, 7:32 p.m.: My friend and I waltz into the intimate El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood for choreographer Sonya Tayeh’s annual dance concert, certain that our half-hour-early arrival guarantees us front row seats. We’re wrong: There’s a nearly full house of teenage girls, stage moms, and aspiring dance professionals like us in billowy tunics and skinny jeans sharing industry gossip and talking about who just got kicked off of FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance?, the reality TV show that propelled Tayeh to stardom. We locate seats in the upper right mezzanine.
8:07 p.m.: Ladies and gentlemen, Sonya Tayeh presents…The Endurance To Move. An upbeat reggae song blasts through the speakers and bright stage lights reveal an army of female dancers in sexy, black marching-band tops and shorts. They jam to the heavy bass with hard-hitting movements, powerful kicks and precise, technical lines. A line of men charge onstage to join them. The audience goes wild.
For an hour and a half, the energy doesn’t drop. Every member of Tayeh Dance Company steps onstage with high-powered passion, and each of Tayeh’s 12 new works makes a distinct emotional and physical statement. In “Confrontations,” two girls struggle (en pointe—ouch) against their dominant partners. Intricate duets, forceful body contact, and images of submission reveal relationship conflicts all too universal. The next piece, “To the One I Love,” makes an emotional U-turn; nine women dance in lovers’ ecstasy to Ingrid Michaelson’s breathy rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Tayeh’s style combines the hits and grooves of hip hop with the sultry, classic lines of jazz, the animation of musical theatre and the vulnerability of contemporary lyrical. It’s raw and strong, and exactly what made Tayeh a viewer favorite when she joined SYTYCD in the show’s fourth season. “There’s a constant angst and aggression in my movement because I’m fiery and I fight for a lot of things,” she said. “It’s important to me to be a mentor, an inventor, and a historian of dance in our generation.” With her long Mohawk, many tattoos, and raspy Detroit accent, she projects a mysterious feminism all her own.
9:30 p.m.: It’s the show’s closing number, and the dancers let loose in bright, 80s workout apparel. An ode to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video incites the loudest cheers of the night, and then Tayeh ascends the stage (in rhinestoned platform heels, a black poofy skirt and a purple feather-wire ensemble that would make Lady Gaga jealous, no less) to dedicate the show to one of her dancers, who has recently survived lymphoma and inspires her to celebrate life through movement. I leave the theatre feeling moved and rejuvenated. Time to get my butt to technique class.
– By Marissa Osato