Thoughts on Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet

Act 2
From Act 2, “Naivete of Flowers.” Photographs by A. Trelease

The annual — sometimes biannual — performance by Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet has come to feel like a special L.A. summer tradition, akin to s’mores around a beach fire pit or music at the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater.

This year, that single performance at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State L.A. (thank you, Wendy Baker) was Aug. 24: the recently completed  “Naivete of Flowers,” an abstract, two-act ballet. Rogers used musical selections from composer Lloyd Rodgers’ “The Little Prince” score, made 33 years ago.

The first half of “Flowers” debuted last year and it was repeated along with the brand new Act 2. It is a stark but eye-catching work, a shifting landscape of color and bodies entering and exiting. The new section is not radically different from the first half. Rogers continued with movement themes and variations carefully introduced before intermission; promenades, dancers spinning slowly standing on one leg, the other held aloft, or the airborne leg circling from front to side to the back. Mike Nava’s paintings of heavily applied splotches of color transformed as the ballet progressed, thanks to the magic of digital projections.

Gustavo Barros photographed in the first act, last year

The music’s pulsing beeps and rhythmic clanging give the entire work a buoyant feel, even through Rogers’ movement vocabulary has no obvious emotional intent. This is an intensely challenging piece to perform well. There’s an angular geometry to the piece, and the changing axis points and lines of the dancers’ bodies become acts of expression. And just like classical dance’s traditional port de bras formations, the carefully plotted relationships between head, arms, legs and torsos suggest shades of meaning or create a restrained kind of music.

The dancing was sharp and nuanced throughout, though the older sections were better synchronized. Trigran Sargsyan is a favorite, for how he infuses rhythm into every step and gesture. Joshua Brown, Jasmine Perry, Laura Chachich and Renee Kim brought vigor and edginess to their exacting portrayals.

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