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Jessica Abrams
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Donna Sternberg & Dancers' What’s Next? Moves Across Cultures

by Jessica Abrams
November 28, 2015
Ivy Substation
9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Donna Sternberg is a dancer’s choreographer. She revels in movement – in exploring all facets of how the human body moves through the various planes, in how it goes from a balletic back attitude to a breakdance move with major attitude. She plays with pacing, in having her dancers swirl onto the floor and then stand with a stillness that holds the audience in a collective gasp. Like choreographer Donald Byrd, who worked with Twyla Tharp among other and in whose company Sternberg danced, her movement is a study of all movement that came before it bundled into an un-self-conscious style that is uniquely her own.

Also like Byrd, she’s not content just to study and explore movement. In her dances, Sternberg also explores deeper meanings – big life questions that dance (pun intended) the fine line between the earthly and the divine. Her most recent project, What’s Next?, November 13-14 at Culver City's Ivy Substation, was a collaboration with two poets, one American and the other Sri Lankan, and an Irish fiddler. Suzanne Lummis, a well-known Los Angeles poet, and Colm O Riain, a world-renowned fiddler, appeared onstage throughout the evening, exploring, alongside the dancers, the themes of love, place, loneliness and relationships.

“Why is the sky blue?”

In the first piece, “Answers and Four Common Questions”, the full company moved in and out of a line across the stage, creating and then breaking formation, at times asking aloud questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” and “Do you think we should get married?”. In some places lyrical, in others with feet flexed and shoulders isolating a la Fosse, the dancers made use of a panoply of movement to convey the universal uncertainty about and within the mating ritual. In “Celtic Rag” Pireeni Sundaralingam’s Sir Lankan poetry and O Riain’s fiddling came together to accompany a pas de deux between Christian Fajardo and Laura Ann Smyth and once again worlds and styles mixed: the Celtic and the South Asian; the dancers – one Filipino, one Caucasian, the movement – at times reverting to classical shapes, other times forming unorthodox ones.

“Rule number two: no self-pitying please”

Other dances toyed with tropes more rooted in American culture. In “Everywhere I Go, There I Am” two women stood against the railing of the balcony lining the back wall, contemplating stardom. Later, two more dancers with visions of Broadway engaged in a dance-off, one wilting and fumbling as the other dazzled. We know these women; they are the topics of many an American play and movie, but the competition, the one faltering and the other soaring went beyond time or place. In “Love Poem With No Whimpering”, Novalima’s Latin beats accompanied three dancers who entered the stage one at a time. As they proceed to jump, spin, roll and wiggle their legs, it became apparent this, stylized as it was, was a dance of happiness. Happiness and love. And that can be translated into any language the world over, from Ireland to Sri Lanka to Los Angeles and back.

Donna Sternberg & Dancers has been a fixture on the Los Angeles dance scene for three decades and with good reason: Sternberg links her dances to deeper meanings that one not need to be a dance aficionado to understand. What’s Next? took her into new territory, using words, live music and, as always, a seemingly limitless array of movement to do what she does best: tell stories.

Photo © & courtesy of Mara Zaslove

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