Dee McCandless and Lynn Raridon call their kind of dancing "ethna-robics." It's a sly, cross-cultural subversion of concert modern dance that borrows styles and steps from the Third World and tackles them with a bouncy, athletic insouciance. For the second installment of the Laguna Beach Invitational on Wednesday night, the two Texans offered "Dinner Dancing," a light meal in five courses.
The appetizer, "Tamboo Bamboo Sticks," had a Caribbean flavor. The brightly costumed dancers whirled and quick-stepped in and out of two long, horizontal bamboo poles manipulated by two helpers. Loose and carefree, the piece celebrated the challenge of pitting dexterity and rhythmic invention against the steady pulse of the snapping poles.
"Materra," danced to "Possible Musics" by Brian Eno and Jon Hassell, was a less satisfying stew of ingredients that never reached a full boil.
Dressed in yellow, hooded unitards with black jungle prints, the pair combined sleekly symmetrical movements reminiscent of modern-dance choreographer Alwin Nikolais with birdlike African-inspired walks achieved with raised buttocks, jutting elbows, bobbing necks and fluid pelvises. Repeated gestures often accelerated into a sketchy blur, but the shape of the piece as a whole sagged into an unfocused sequence of movements.
After some silliness from Andrea Luna as a plump would-be charmer in a chiffon party dress and toe shoes, mooning about to an inane pop song (was this a takeoff on William Forsythe's acerbic "Love Songs"?), the program picked up with "Whirly Gurly Rushin' Salad With Dressing."
McCandless--who once danced with Laura Dean, famous for works involving spinning--revolved endlessly while Raridon beat a drum, egging her on like a coach. Moaning and slowly shedding parts of her folkloric costume, she spiced this West African dance with Russian-style stamping.
The audience was invited to sit on stage as in a tribal gathering for the final piece, "Acapellafrica Topped With Can-Cans," in which the two women stepped, shimmied, pumped their torsos and cried out nonsense syllables while they shook rattling cans.
The fact that the women are Caucasian Americans added a zany audacity to the proceedings but their guilelessly enthusiastic approach seemed calculated to deflect any concerns about ripping off a morsel of South African culture for one's own amusement.