Bodytraffic explores power, greed, and the opioid crisis through contemporary dance

The Los Angeles-based troupe's two shows in Vancouver also celebrate James Brown, Peggy Lee, and Dean Martin

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      The Los Angeles contemporary dance troupe Bodytraffic is committed to building audiences for this art form. And sometimes, that involves exploring topics or subject areas not normally addressed in dance.

      A prime example is The One to Stay With, which the company is presenting in Vancouver this evening (May 5) and on Friday (May 6) at the Vancouver Playhouse.

      Conceived by the choreographic duo Baye & Asa and commissioned by Bodytraffic, it explores ideas of power, greed, and deceit.

      "The opioid crisis has been something that really concerned them for many years," Bodytraffic artistic director Tina Finkelman Berkett tells the Straight by phone in advance of the show. 

      That led the two artists—Amadi "Baye" Washington and Sam "Asa" Pratt—decided to create a show inspired by Patrick Radden Keefe's bestselling book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.

      The book was a chilling examination of the family whose pharmaceutical company, Purdue, marketed OxyContin and other drugs.

      According to Berkett, Baye & Asia became fascinated with that the Sackler family story said about human behaviour.

      "So they really wanted to build a work that was inspired by Empire of Pain and the opioid crisis and the Sackler family's involvement," Berkett says. "But on a grander scale, the work is about power and greed and proximity to power—and the effect that has on people."

      Berkett says that the choreographers don't want her to give too much away about the performance, which involves eight dancers.

      "There is a set piece on the stage and when the curtain goes up, you observe what we refer to as the 'resource'," she reveals. "And you see kind of like a very large glass bowl and there is water dripping into it."

      This water, coming from the top of the stage, could represent many things: limited resources in our world, a morphine drip or anything else. Throughout the piece, dancers are drawn to this resource—and one of them appears to have ultimate control.

      A Million Voices looks back to a simpler time in America.
      Rob Latour

      Other works carry uplifting messages

      This is one of four works in the show. It opens with A Million Voices, a tribute to jazz singer Peggy Lee that pulls on the nostalgic heart strings. It includes dancers performing to some of Lee's hits, including the Grammy-winning "Is That All There Is?".

      Berkett explains that the choreographer, BalletX's Matthew Neenan, wanted to show a time when people were proud to be American.

      "Matthew made the piece during the Trump administration and this was a very clear response," she notes.

      Los Angeles–based choreographer Micaela Taylor's energetic SNAP is also part of the program. Six dancers are on-stage performing to James Brown's "I Got the Feelin'" and "Super Bad", along with original music.

      "He was kind of like the epitome of fighting for your artistic freedom, right?" Berkett says. "And in his voice, you hear both sheer joy and freedom and at the same time, you hear so much struggle and angst."

      If you like the music of James Brown, you'll likely love Micaela Taylor's SNAP. 

      The final piece, PACOPEPEPLUTO, was choreographed by Chicago-based Alejandro Cerrudo. This features three men wearing minimal attire performing solos set to the music of Dean Martin.

      Berkett says audiences can help but be in awe of these dancers' physiques, noting that they're offering a glimpse of what it's like for anyone to be dancing to Dean Martin in their living rooms alone.

      "It's very sweet," she says. "We love to close our evenings with that. It lets people go home feeling just a little bit uplifted, which is great."


      Pacopepepluto celebrates the male body in performance.
      DanceHouse presents Bodytraffic's Mixed Repertoire – A Million Voices, The One To Stay With, SNAP, and PACOPEPEPLUTO at 8 p.m. on May 5 and 6 at the Vancouver Playhouse. For more information, visit the website.