Invertigo Dance Theatre filled the 1,200 seat John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Friday night. If you have never been there, the stage is on two levels, the ceiling is the star filled Los Angeles sky, and the backdrop is tree covered mountains. There is a lot to distract the eye, but the Invertigo Dance Theatre held the audience’s attention throughout the evening.

© George Simian
© George Simian
After It Happened is a dance within a story, within a dance, within a story. In Laura Karlin's own words, “It is about community”; a community that has lived through a major disaster and rebuilt its structures and its people. It is a work filled with Karlin’s signature dare-devil partnering and high energy movement, but is much more. It is an evening-long work with live music, a set, props, multi-talented dancers, and musicians who take part in the action. The plot is strong and provocative, but the action does not always hold together. Those short gaps, however, are forgivable because of what takes place before and afterwards.

The work opened with a serene feel onstage that was quickly shattered by a brilliant flash of light and people scrambling for cover. The theatrical effects brought to mind an atomic bomb attack, but it could have been any number of external or natural disasters that took place. The results were clear; devastation. People died and people survived; this town or state was almost totally destroyed. The main focus of After It Happened was not on the disaster, but on the aftermath and the toll it took on those who survived. Karlin examined how people, the community, rallied together to rebuild and support each other, but also how, humans being who they are, history sadly repeats itself.

A huge addition to After It Happened was Karlin’s collaboration with her very talented brother and composer Toby Karlin. The music score was outstanding, and he had the wisdom to involve the amazingly gifted singer-songwriter and percussionist Diana Lynn. Her musical talents are vast and her final song brought down the house. Another composer listed was Jon Lall, and kudos to the beautiful dancer Hyosun Choi who also stunned some of us with her incredible musical talents on the cello. And the truly fearless and multi-talented Sofia Klass who sang hauntingly while performing a provocative duet with her wonderful partner Jonathan Bryant.

There were movement sections of workers struggling to rebuild in assembly line style. Workers rebelled and an authoritarian-type figure performed by Lynn attempts taking control. The community was hit by disease and yet throughout the evening hope was in the forefront. Irene Kleinbauer gives a great performance of a woman remembering her childhood and telling us what her neighborhood looked like before being destroyed. We then see those memories brought to life through Karlin’s choreography. We experience a soccer game played with moments of great humor as the players move in slow motion to exaggerate facial and body reactions.

© George Simian
© George Simian

Karlin is a very strong choreographer and an accomplished story teller. She often fills the stage with props, vivid images and high powered physicality. In After It Happened, however, Karlin falls back on a few of her trademark piling up of human bodies when it did not necessarily fit the narrative. Sometimes the multi-partnering felt like it was done for effect and only acted to confuse and diminish an otherwise totally enjoyable evening. People crawling over other people to survive made absolute sense. A person slithering under others to escape tyranny was very believable. In this dance/story, the piling up of dancers simply to demonstrate a partnering skill did nothing to further the plot. As stated above, those moments were few, but they stood out like a splash of red paint on a gray canvas. Perhaps good art, but not appropriate to the work seen onstage.

Lighting Design (R.S. Buck) more than succeeded in continually changing the environment and conditions of this community. John Burton placed us in those different places with his stylized set, and his blue bird puppet was gorgeous.

One hopes that After It Happened has a long life, matures and is seen by audiences everywhere. The dance artists and musicians are all extraordinarily talented and Karlin’s choreographic talents are above those of many. Jessica Dunn and Jodie Mashburn stood out in their sometimes violent duet, and Dunn was outstanding in the final scene. Sadie Yarrington’s wonderful performance in her white tub solo made the woman behind me exclaim “I want to go home and try that!” Chris Smith was great in his humorous solo filled with turns, leaps and bounding up to Dunn’s shoulder! Louie Cornejo also gave a strong performance.