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Los Angeles Theater Festival : Lyons Ballet Offers Modern Bill

September 21, 1987|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music/Dance Critic

Earlier last week, the Lyons Opera Ballet jolted us with Maguy Marin's bleak, controversial doll-house version of "Cinderella." Saturday the company dropped its other slipper, as it were, with a very mixed mixed bill.

The program, an obvious effort to demonstrate the diversity of neo-Gallic trendiness, surveyed four modern idioms. It may be significant that only one installment emanated from France.

The would-be festivities at Soundstage 11 of the Raleigh Studio in Hollywood, sparsely attended in the afternoon, began with "Luminescences" by the Dutch choreographer Nils Christe. This turned out to be a neat exercise in deja-vu abstraction that owes much to the Balanchine mystique and more, perhaps, to Glen Tetley.

Next, the company tried its feet at "Steptext," a strident bravura essay by the American enfant quasi-terrible , William Forsythe. This was followed by "Mama, Sunday, Monday, or Always," an odd enlargement of "Extasis," a gender-battle duet introduced here on Sept. 12 by the French duo Mathilde Monnier and Jean Francois Duroure.

Finally, returning to barefoot primitivism with a meek nod in the direction of Jerome Robbins, the Lyonnais recycled a Spanish work from the repertory of the Nederlands Dans Theater: Nacho Duato's "Jardi Tancat."

Such a melange could hardly reveal a consistent stylistic profile. It would be less than realistic, moreover, to claim that the diligent dancers found each of the four challenges equally congenial.

Still, one had to admire the inherent sense of adventure--in French dance, that is a very relative thing--not to mention the energetic dedication of all concerned. After the numbing neutrality of "Cinderella," it was good, too, to see that these dancers have interesting faces and compelling personalities.

One of the most compelling, no doubt, belongs to Pascale Michelet, who confronted three highly aggressive partners in the Forsythe saga. Striking in crimson leotard and toe shoes, she moved with taut bravery from savage duet to savage duet to savage duet.

She flew with one macho dancer in black, tried in vain to dash past another, dived into the quirky embrace of the third. While the men--Pierre Advokatoff, Claude Freva and Martin Schmitt--engaged in fanciful hand-gesture solos representing footwork and enacted agonized contests of agitation, she provided the constant contrast of a fine classical poise gone intriguingly askew.

The sometimes casual, sometimes formal, always slightly jagged lines found an echo of sorts in the choreographer's brutal shredding of the Bach D-minor Chaconne on the sound track. The sudden blackouts found an aural reflection in the sudden silences. The general aura of alienation was reinforced by blinding searchlights turned on the innocent viewers.

"Steptext," extracted from a full-length opus called "Artifact," wasn't fun, and it certainly wasn't easy. But it did seem original--except for the searchlights cliche--and it did provoke the complacent viewer with bold impulses and brash images.

There was nothing provocative, unfortunately, in Christe's pretty pairings and predictable patterns as inspired by the tinkles of Poulenc's D-major Concerto for two pianos. The untidy, uncredited performance of the score, incidentally, was blasted via tape.

With tickets costing $30, one might have hoped for live music. But an uncomfortable makeshift facility that does not even provide adequate parking cannot be expected to accommodate an orchestra, much less an orchestra pit. (Meanwhile, the Wilshire Ebell Theater, the Pasadena Civic, the Beverly Theater and the Wiltern, all vastly preferable, stand empty.)

The shadowy Monnier-Duroure duet--with protagonists fighting unisex trench coats, fluffy petticoats and each other--had exerted a certain black-humored show-biz compulsion in its original version. Blown up for eight far more balletic dancers, it looked smoother, sweeter, softer, sillier. The edge had become dull, the tone polite, the impact comical.

"Jardi Tancat" (The Enclosed Garden), required three couples to do a lot of picturesque peasant maneuvers. To the strains of some gutsy Catalan songs, the ensemble swayed, dropped, stretched, stomped the floor. The men, ever macho, struck labor poses. The women, often stooped and submissive, did the quaint equivalent of "women's work." Eventually, traces of love duets emerged as the unison frenzy level rose.

It was all too ritualistic, too pat and simplistic. What looks chic in Lyons may look a little shabby in L.A.

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