Southern California choreographers get so few performance opportunities that their creations seldom enjoy any shakedown or tryout phase. Instead, what you see in a major showcase, such as the final "Dance Kaleidoscope" program on Sunday at Cal State Los Angeles, often seems close to a workshop draft: rough, unready, incomplete.
Take Meri Bender's solo "After Images"; it's not really a piece at all but a staged outline. We glimpse a collection of raw movement motifs, ideas about space and, in particular, about setting veteran dancer Don Bondi against a projected text that defines his character's illness and imminent death. There is even a promising score by Craig Kupka. But there's no development, no moment-by-moment surety of effect.
In her solo "The Highest High," Eartha Robinson dances to a simple, subdued ballad with spare accompaniment, yet piles on every gross, glitzy emotional and technical effect she can muster--daring to be musical only at the end when she performs her familiar highest high extension. She's a superb dancer all right, but as a choreographer she appears addicted to hand-me-down excess.
Dennon and Sayhber Rawles also succumb to confused ambition in their ill-assorted pop suite "It's Alright With Us" for Jazz Dancers, Inc. The only evident intention: staying loose, playful and \o7 not\f7 delivering another hard-sell display piece. Mission accomplished, but shouldn't the three sections fit together somehow?
If the Rawles' company boasts slick execution, Riverside Ballet Theatre looks ragged in David Allan's "ETC!," a ballroom pastiche that aims for a high gloss but shows us men easily winded and women whose gowns don't fit. Though David Meinke hasn't yet mastered his showpiece solo, this sequence provides Allan's only original use of either the ballroom or ballet vocabulary.
As with Long Beach Ballet a week earlier, Riverside replaced an injured company member with a notable, unannounced guest: stylish Erik Bruhn Prize-winner Stephen Legate, formerly with National Ballet of Canada and now with San Francisco Ballet.
Half the Sunday program explored facets of female suffering--often deliberately unexplained. However, Shel Wagner's uneven but remarkable duet "The Girl Who Keeps Slipping Off" sought almost clinical exactitude, casting Wagner as a guilt-ridden, emotionally abused child who grows up to seek physical abuse from her partner (the spectacularly feral Steven Craig) and then crumbles into psychotic gestural frenzy. Potent movement theater.
Pain formed a curious undercurrent to Jonette Swider's demonstrations of ballet technique in Mike Herrington's "Red Poppy" adagio. Partnered capably by Gregory King, the ultra-pliant Swider contrasted perfect physical balance with the character's unbalanced emotional state--all in Chinese drag, no less.
Betzi Roe's "Suite For My Sweet" exploited nonstop, flung-out unmodulated motion (excellently controlled) that increasingly yielded to spasms of distress. Up to the inconclusive final section, the solo also imaginatively physicalized the energy and mood of songs by the Eurythmics.
As usual, Melinda Ring's "Guiltless" depended on her violently lashing her long, thick hair. However, by placing the solo outside the Cal State Playhouse at intermission, and having Ring sweep through the crowd, this quasi-autistic movement cycle took on the edge of meeting a deranged person in a public place.
Lawrence Blake's recently reviewed "Black Angels" for Los Angeles Chamber Ballet completed the program--and on this occasion an outrageously noisy photographer added incessant mechanical counterpoint to the George Crumb score.