3rd Law Dance/Theater: Lost in Place at the Arvada Center
A review by Gwen Gray
As last Saturday evening’s performance of “Lost in Place” by 3rd Law Dance/Theater got underway, the sound of trains chugging along and boats sloshing into harbor filled the Arvada Center for Arts and Humanities, and old black-and-white scenes evoking 20th century European immigration were projected on the backdrop. Ten dancers appeared on stage holding two pairs of shoes each, perhaps symbolizing two disparate lives — one in the past and one of today, in a new land.
A viewer’s impulse might have been to expect “Lost in Place” to launch into a commentary on the immigration crises currently spanning the globe and at home in the U.S. (as this week we read headlines about children being ripped from their parents’ arms at the Mexican border). But while relevant observations about migration, loss and desperation are certainly there, “Lost in Place” is no singular statement piece.
It’s far broader and too complex to be put in a box — political or otherwise. At times filled with piercing despair and yearning and at others giggle-inducing, there’s much more here than anyone could predict.
One moment, piles of abandoned and mismatched shoes evoke grim images of what is left behind in migration or crisis, yet the next moment the mood pivots and a brigade of dancers, armed with silly noise-makers, click, rattle and “whoop-whoop” their way across the stage, collecting those same shoes in a rolling trunk in comedic, ritual fashion.
As is characteristic of co-artistic directors’ Katie Elliott and Jim LaVita’s work, “Lost in Place” is richly multilayered. Within this program’s larger conceptual framework (an exploration of what it means to lose one’s ties to place, time and even life itself) is a sub-network of precepts that guided the dancers into creating and contributing their own movements. Elliott asked each dancer to select several gestures representing their own personality traits or those reminiscent of their ancestors. These snippets of movement were repeated throughout the evening, with one dancer wiping her brow, another wobbling from right foot to left, another making a motion of flossing her teeth, and so on. The effect is frenetic, calling up images of “the masses” arriving in a new world, repeating the familiar motions of life back home, while also reminding us that each individual has her unique past. Add to that the cacophony of dancers shouting out their social security numbers, and the scene at one point was like a frenzied train station in which no one is sure of their ultimate destination.
A vast array of props—suitcases, shoes, coats, trunks, toys, typewriters, letters, boxes—were used to clever effect in every scene of “Lost in Place”: dancer Danielle Hendricks balances upside-down atop a typewriter in handstand, Jennifer DePalo-Peterson is precariously poised in attitude with one foot rooted in a cardboard box, Gwen Phillips slips on a new pair of shoes, her legs suddenly possessed and bewildered by the new life they find themselves walking. And through them, we witness how such relics and the memories they embody can bring us joy, cause us pain, beguile us, offer comfort and, sometimes, if we grasp too tightly, keep us tied to the past.
With strong undercurrents of loss running through “Lost in Place,” audience members naturally reflected on the fact that the company is still mourning the loss of their artistic director Jimmy LaVita, who passed away in October 2017. (The original “Lost in Place” was one of the first collaborations between husband-and-wife team LaVita and Elliott two decades ago).
This was especially evident in the third movement, “Before/After.” As dancer Page Jenkins was yanked between the personifications of life and death, forced to relinquish the objects we associate most strongly with memory and longing — letters, photographs, records — the company’s grief was palpable.
The show’s last scene saw the full cast of dancers make their way upstage, each passing for a split-second through single wall of light. They then placed their shoes in a small pile and crowned it with a pair of men’s loafers, illuminated by a white beam.
This final, moving gesture is a tribute that reminds us that, as with life’s journey, the creative journey often takes an unpredictable path requiring adaptation, reflection, reimagination and rebirth. As 3rd Law forges into new territory without the physical presence of their beloved Jimmy, audiences can rest assured: Katie Elliott’s choreographic brilliance and the company’s extraordinary dance talent promise the next stop on the new voyage will be one not to miss.