Apocalyptic visions dominate the two compelling dance works by local choreographers premiered Thursday in a polished program by the Pacific Dance Ensemble at Cal State L.A. The show repeats tonight.
Tanya Hinkel's wildly visual "11:59" had the quality of a doom-laden Maypole dance as nine performers, starkly costumed in knee-length white unitards inched along the theater's aisles, straining against, and making patterns with, taut strips of elastic that fanned down from the light booth.
Facing the audience, composer Gaylord Mowrey electronically manipulates a grand piano to produce a throbbing, ominously effective accompaniment. The dancers finally clamber on stage, but as they run, fall, and grasp, their release takes the form of disconnection and signals the beginning of a fatal competition.
Tina Gerstler's "Close" also deals with loss and displacement.
Using earth-toned costumes, a hypnotic synthesized score by Steve Moshier and a backdrop of images by Alfredo de Batuc, Gerstler's seven dancers begin as if crowded together on an island. Although a variety of permutations are attempted, the inescapable proximity results in the sense of persecution, solipsism and tyranny.
But while Gerstler's scenario may be grim, her movement vocabulary remains consistently exhilarating. Particularly notable is her use of the dancers' torsos, where she creates undulations that begin at the performers' waists and seamlessly end at their fingertips.
In keeping with the L.A.-based Ensemble's stated mission of offering an expanding repertory of contemporary dance works, the program included two company premieres.
"Deadman," choreographed by Jeffrey Moore and Shel Wagner is a coy, contact-improv style duet winningly performed by Derek Penfield and Pacific Ensemble's artistic director, Danielle Shapiro. Rudy Perez's witty urban cantata "Fall-Out" is danced with an exuberance that's effective, but the dance's darker, more subtle undercurrents are yet to be explored.
Considering the number of styles they are asked to master, all nine company members perform admirably. In the Gerstler piece, however, particular praise is due Penfield, Marcia Kellam and Bonnie Lavin.
The evening ended with a beatific rendition of Stephanie Gilliland's previously reviewed "Spell: Still Creating the World."