“Reeling” explores the search for human connection in the rhythms of a raucous night out

By Christina Campodonico

Invertigo Dance Theatre performers navigate a bar set in “Reeling,” a show about love, conflict and having one too many

Invertigo Dance Theatre performers navigate a bar set in “Reeling,” a show about love, conflict and having one too many

For someone unfamiliar with modern dance, going to a contemporary dance concert may inspire anxiety, even trepidation. But when someone goes to an Invertigo Dance Theatre performance, artistic director Laura Karlin doesn’t
want theatergoers to feel stupid or afraid. Instead, she wants to invite viewers into the dancers’ world.

“I think if you invite the audience in, you can really challenge them and they’ll go with you so far down that rabbit hole, whatever rabbit hole you choose,” says Karlin, who founded the L.A.-based dance company in 2007. As a choreographer, she has explored rabbit holes as serious as a society in the wake of a natural disaster and as eccentric as a docent-led, museum-style tour through a contemporary dance work.

Karlin’s latest venture is a scenario that many may know all too well (or may have completely forgotten) — a wild night out.

Entitled “Reeling,” the dance is set in a dive bar and follows eight characters as they attempt to make various kinds of connections with each other throughout the night. Friday’s show inside the Moss Theater at New Roads School kicks off Invertigo’s first regional tour of Southern California.

The concept for “Reeling,” which was originally commissioned in 2009 and dramatically reworked for the tour, comes from the word’s double meaning.

“‘Reeling’ from that place where you’re off balance … where you’ve had too much to drink, or you have been punched in the face, or you’ve fallen in love at first sight, or all of these things that knock us off balance. And then why do we go to a bar if often to make that connection? To reel someone in,” says Karlin about the word-play.

The title suggests a whimsically off-kilter approach to dance-making, but the show’s setting in a fictional watering hole — the set is a bar that can fold up into the back of a truck — is actually a space to explore character and movement within a real-world situation.

“I’m using what I hope is a recognizable context … in order to then explore a sort of deeper thread,” says Karlin of the bar scene where her dancers meet, mingle, leap off counters and entangle each other in fishing lines. A goldfish swirling in one dancer’s wine glass even makes an appearance.

For Karlin, the fanciful dynamics and familiar scenery are entry points for dramatizing universal themes of love, rejection and desire.

“I’m really interested in cracking open this desire for human connection that we all have and the ways that it can manifest itself, the ways that we try to connect. What happens when it goes very right, you know? When it’s romantic or tender or funny? And what happens when it goes really wrong? What happens when it is violating or violent? Or confusing or humiliating? How are all the ways that we’re reacting with one another building up? And so human interaction is at the heart of this show,” muses Karlin.

Yet it’s “Reeling’s” appeal to a common experience that may best encompass Karlin’s philosophy toward dance as an inclusive, rather than an exclusive, activity.

“I think that we’ve all had a reeling night out,” says Karlin, who encourages an open interpretation of her work. “I think everyone has had that experience of an evening where things have begun as normal and spiraled in many directions you could not have foreseen.
In many ways, that’s kind of the story of every adventure.”

Invertigo Dance Theatre’s “Reeling” opens at 8 p.m. Friday at the Moss Theater in the Herb Alpert Educational Village at New Roads School, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica.
Tickets are $27; $20 for students. “Reeling” continues with 8 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday performances. Call (424) 229-2141 or visit invertigodance.org.