LOS ANGELES — A performance at The Institute of Art and Olfaction (IAO) should surely titillate at least two of your senses. MILK, a limited-run performance presented by the Volta dance collective and IAO, engages at least four — five if you’re strategic. An interpretation of Medea, the Euripidean Greek tragedy of a passionate lover-cum-vengeful murderer, nine performers (six dancers, an orator, a harpist, and a sound architect) reimagine the woman’s dark tale in a Chinatown street.
As an audience member, the sensory immersion into Medea’s saga is both subtle and overt. Of course, the choreography of the dancers engages your sight. The narration of an original, modernized version of the story by Alexis Okeowo stirs your hearing, along with a live score by harpist Melissa Achten, a composition by sound architect Nicholas Snyder, and the natural concert of a Los Angeles evening. Four carefully crafted scents — Medea, young; Medea, murderer; Jason (Medea’s husband); The Innocents (Medea’s children) — all made by Saskia Wilson-Brown, partition distinct themes in the narrative as the dancers pepper samples of the aroma in the audience at specific times.
Taste is the one sense that eluded me when I saw the performance, though I could have remedied that by purchasing a glass of wine — a fitting beverage for an epic tale of love and murder, something I imagine many of us would reach for if mired in the same trouble. As the performance was staged outside at a time when Los Angeles has finally cooled down and given in to the concepts of “seasons” and “cold air,” viewers became aware of the feel of their own bodies: the chill in the fingers, the prickling of the skin exposed to the elements.
Perhaps this physicality is what is most striking about this performance. Dance can often feel, to me, like tennis: multiple moving parts deftly cover a dedicated space, connecting often but only briefly. MILK is much more akin to wrestling: bodies collide to form something new and living in the way they move together. As the choreography evolves, bodywork increases — dancers mount and lift one another and use their own limbs as counterweights for a partner to be airborne. Similar to Medea’s experience of the desperation that festers while distanced from a partner, tensions are made more apparent when the bodies are apart and circling one another than when combined into a compound mass.
With a very limited run of three shows, MILK viscerally tackles the subject matter of emotion overtaking reason, of love spurned so intensely it morphs into a dark mania. The merging of words, sound, movement, and scent tether this myth to a felt reality. Even the majority of the scents created include something of the human biome: sweat, blood, tears, and, of course, that life-giving essence that is perhaps the original display of a woman’s sacrifice for love: milk.
MILK was performed on November 10, 11, and 12 at The Institute of Art and Olfaction (932 Chung King Rd. Chinatown, Los Angeles, California). MILK is a collaboration between Volta and The Institute of Art and Olfaction.
Editor’s Note, 11/18/2022, 3:00 pm EST: An earlier version of this article omitted the November 10 performance. This has since been corrected.