Lula Washington's Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Theatre premiered "A Duke for the '90s" as part of "A Duke Ellington Evening With Dance" at Cal State L.A. over the weekend, but they missed the A-Train.
Inspired by Ellington-era style, the seven brief dances were marred by uninventive choreography and intermittently sloppy execution. An energetic if predictable opening number included winsome character gestures; another segment featured four men teetering their way through the arabesques of a Jerome Robbins-like formation.
The low point was utterly cloying: a mirror ball lit the way as the ensemble made their way into the house to lure obliging patrons onstage to slow-dance, leaving the rest of the audience to snooze their way through the ensuing Prom.
In the sixth dance, however, the male dancers lay on the floor with plastic garbage bags covering the lower halves of their bodies, as their female partners dragged them around the stage and, in the end, stood over them with arms folded defiantly across their chests. More theater than dance, this provocative moment brought to mind hardships past and present--and nearly redeemed the otherwise tepid evening.