As part of a two-month dance festival hosted by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company premiered The Only Constant this January. This full-length work by artistic director Genevieve Carson explores the juxtaposition between chaos and composure. For sixty uninterrupted minutes, Carson’s choreography meditates on the human condition. All at once exuberant and exhausting, the show displays an utterly raw view of dance, and ultimately, of humanity.

LA Contemporary Dance Company in <i>The Only Constant</i> © Robbie Sweeny
LA Contemporary Dance Company in The Only Constant
© Robbie Sweeny

The four dancers navigate sections of complex choreography intersected by moments of unfiltered human emotion. Carson’s choreography puts the dancers’ virtuosity on display; they bound across the stage, falling in and out of the floor with ease. Duets of odd proportions emerge from these scenes; Carson pairs the tall Drea Sobke with JM Rodriguez’s shorter stature. She also features male-male partnering between Rodriguez and Ryan Ruiz. The push and pull energy of the partnering breaks into ice-skater-like spins, just on the edge of the dancers’ control.

The chaos of the dance longs for unison. When the four dancers finally fall in sync, it is still imperfect, perhaps intentionally so. Against the minimalist set, their pastel costumes by Sami Martin Sarmiento feel playfully absurd, and the dancers often appear childlike in their unaltered expression of emotion. Vulnerability arises as the dancers display intimacy. Their soft embraces shift into whispers of “I’m sorry,” and “It’s ok.”

Set to the classical compositions of Bach, Mozart, Handel, Satie, and Chopin, the choreography plays with classical convention in an effort to be ironic. Los Angeles composer Robert Amjarv manipulates these works into a score that is both recognizable and avant-garde. The drama of the score makes the emotionality of the dancers appear ironic, but the use of such well-known compositions makes that irony seem forced.

LA Contemporary Dance Company in <i>The Only Constant</i> © Robbie Sweeny
LA Contemporary Dance Company in The Only Constant
© Robbie Sweeny
As the dance develops, small white lampshades descend from the ceiling, and the dancers pull the cords, dumping sawdust on each other. Sobke and Tiffany Sweat begin to bring clumps of sawdust onto the stage. Their spastic dirt flinging garners a few chuckles from the audience. The sawdust becomes the motif of the dance; its messy, chalky presence both inhibits and enhances the choreography. The dancers never appear quite grounded, especially as they slide through the sawdust in socks, and the chaos of the movements seems to be united only by the consistent dumping of sawdust. Still, the latter gives the whole work a tangible messy texture, further speaking to the human condition Carson plays with portraying.

At its worst, The Only Constant is endearing. The choreography presents a conglomeration of human emotions, ranging from laughter to fear. It explores themes of isolation and relationships where fleeting moments of intimacy break away into the extremes of human expression. The dance depends largely on its use of props for a grounding base, often careening so far into chaos it lacks a focal point.

But at its best, Carson’s work is profoundly moving, a testament to the human spirit. In the city of Los Angeles, where vulnerability is often pushed aside in favour of perfection, The Only Constant brings humanity center stage.

***11