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'Graffiti'

March 31, 1986|SHELLEY BAUMSTEN

These days graffiti enjoys a certain credibility and currency as popular culture, providing a voice and vehicle for the disenfranchised. But the "Graffiti" program of dance and music at Japan America Theatre Saturday night rarely reflected the individuality and social comment that distinguishes the best of this contemporary urban folk art.

Combining modern, jazz, and street dance elements, this three-part collaborative work by Repertory Dance Theatre of Los Angeles shortchanged well-crafted choreography with uneven, mostly anonymous dancing and fatuous commentary that compared the suppression of graffiti to Nazism.

Only the "Lunacy" section bore the imprint of originality. Here the dancers brought emotional and stylistic authenticity to a complex, eccentric vision. In lineup formation, they faced off the audience like a defiant row of graffiti signatures.

Gregory Gonzales was a standout--in a short riff that included a phenomenal turn in deepest plie and later in a dazzling display of break-dancing. At the other end of the scale, Sharen Anthony bottomed out in her blues solo, lacking the line, lilt and technique her choreography called for.

As the desperate figure beset by an angry, scornful chorus, company artistic director Jon Johnson provided a compelling dramatic presence and conveyed a vivid sense of power in confinement.

Free-flowing, passionate instrumental music by the Billy Childs Jazz Ensemble linked the individualism of graffiti to the individuality of jazz. Elsewhere, though, "Graffiti" squandered this gifted quintet on rhythmically routine dance accompaniment.

Johnson, Gregory Castilian, Anthony and Jay Kiester shared credit for the choreography. Childs composed the score and Johnson, Kiester, Yves Marton and Lady Walker wrote the text.

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