The Music Center ON Location commissioned a new work by Jacob Jonas The Company that premiered at the newly renovated John Anson Ford Theatres. On Me is a thoughtful and timely work choreographed and directed by Jacob Jonas for his team of diverse and very talented dance artists. Jonas is originally from Los Angeles and his choreography beautifully melds together elements from contemporary modern, lyrical dance, break dancing and hip hop. For On Me, he has been very acutely selective about aspects of those different genres to incorporate into the work.

Jacob Jonas The Company © Timothy Norris, courtesy of the Ford Theatres
Jacob Jonas The Company
© Timothy Norris, courtesy of the Ford Theatres

On Me is intense, dynamic and examines the underdogs, the downtrodden, the burdened of society. Jonas does not make judgements on anyone and he leaves his final message wide open for any outcome. There is one section at the end that is amazing to watch, so one can excuse him for letting it go on longer than it probably should. The acrobatics element of this part is intriguing to witness; asking, how did they do that?

Bodies are lying in a heap downstage center. One by one they slide off and slowly roll to the sides and stand up leaving break dancer Jacob “Kujo” Lyons lying on his back. He performs some incredible moves when suddenly the other eight dancers dash in, some flipping, some almost flying, land on top of him, creating the original pile of bodies. This image is action is repeated with varying speeds until Lyons leaps out of the way of his assailants, leaving Nic Walton on the bottom.

There is a series of chain reaction collisions; one person running into another until a row of performers stand in a line. A head hits a shoulder to create a similar effect, proving that our actions in life have reactions. A man, Walton, tries to rid himself of others, but they constantly catch up to align themselves with him. Here Walton proves that he is a wonderful actor as well as a man who can do back flips.

Jacob Jonas The Company © Timothy Norris, courtesy of the Ford Theatres
Jacob Jonas The Company
© Timothy Norris, courtesy of the Ford Theatres

Lyons performs a trio with Jill Wilson and Nic Walton where they manipulate her. She is at first compliant, but eventually frees herself from his control. Nic Walton and Joy Isabella Brown give great performances as a couple in a love-hate relationship. Brown is later seen trying to break through her barriers by shoving, flipping and struggling to overcome.

Jonas returns to the original pile of bodies throughout this work. The title, On Me, then takes on multiple meanings of people’s suppressions and burdens in this current society and political environment. Again, Jonas makes no judgements. He gives no real solutions, but he does shine light on the problems.

There is a beautiful duet between Jill Wilson and Emma Rosenzweig-Bock. A stunning show of control and balance by Brooklynn Reeve and slow acrobatic duet with Lamonte “Tales” Goode. Wilson, Reeves and Rosenzweig-Bock perform a unison trio mainly lying on the stage floor. They rise to stare defiantly outwards, but return to the task at hand. Jonas has taken the raw intensity of these dancers’ best gifts and molded them into a figurative narrative.

The section that begins to feel long is an acrobatic, in unison trio with Lyon, Keanu Uchida, Walton, Wilson, Reeves and Rosenzweig-Bock. Here, Jonas’ narrative gets murky and becomes a beautiful show of agility, strength and body sculpturing. As stated above, it is incredible to observe.

Jacob Jonas The Company © Timothy Norris, courtesy of the Ford Theatres
Jacob Jonas The Company
© Timothy Norris, courtesy of the Ford Theatres

Jonas has matured as an artist and his team, as he called them, has as well. William Adashek’s lighting for On Me was simple and elegant. Jonas only used the lower level of the Ford Stage, as does Adashek until the end when he lit up the entire background. For this work, Jonas made the right choice not to incorporate all the different levels of this beautiful outdoor venue. The piece needed the sense of confinement that he envisioned. Tim Hecker’s music was subtly strengthening; adding a layer of tension to the environment that Jonas creates.

After what felt like a never-ending intermission so that the stage crew could set up the electronic music, lighting and fog producing equipment, the painfully loud music of Tim Hecker with Kara-Lis Coverdale began. The fog quickly became thick and heavy, and the music, which had very subtle shifts in quality, became unbearably loud. It was hauntingly beautiful to watch the musicians appear and disappear through the sometimes bluish, other times purplish haze, but the ever-increasing volume prevented hearing any nuance to Hecker’s composition. He was left with only a handful of audience members when I left. If his goal was to asphyxiate and deafen his audience, Hecker somewhat succeeded. Mostly, however, he drove his audience away. Ironically, the powerful qualities that Hecker’s music brought to On Me were not evident during his own performance.