COSTA MESA — To heavy percussive blasts and the wailing of high-pitched voices, a man and a woman square off in severe martial-arts poses. Two figures stand behind each adversary, mirroring theirangular stances.
Suddenly the whole group explodes in effortful, sharp-edged aggressive movements, executed with symmetrical, clocklike regularity . . .
Eight Ballet Pacifica dancers are busy rehearsing a new piece by Kathryn Posin, being created for the "Pacifica Choreographic Project '93." Posin's work, along with pieces by Mark Dendy, Paul Estabrook and Robert Sund, will be presented Saturday at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.
In the rehearsal, Posin stands, hesitant, at times.
Was this exactly the way they did it before? Do the background figures stand still at this point? Do they move? Can they sweep through the figure-eight moves on this beat, right now? she asks the dancers.
A pause. She turns and asks an observer: "Is this section too repetitive? What does it look like?"
Such is the give-and-take process that even a well-established New York choreographer goes through to create a dance.
A familiar figure to Southland dance audiences, having taught at UCLA from 1986-88, Posin is a beneficiary of what may be Ballet Pacifica's most valuable contribution: the constant commissioning of new works.
The idea for her dance came from a collision between two cultures. Posin was choreographing for the national dance company of Taiwan last year. After one rehearsal, she went for a walk in a nearby bamboo forest, listening to music on her Walkman.
"I kept hearing strange hacking and cracking sounds, which sort of scared me," she said. "Then I ran right into this old man. His face was lined like a river bed and he had sparkling black eyes. He was bent over, carrying a huge load of bamboo on his back. It was like two centuries, two cultures colliding . . .
"We were both scared. I was wondering how such a small, broken body could carry such a load of bamboo . . . . It took me until now to digest and (process) my impressions," she said.
She drew music for the dance from the work of Tan Dun, a 36-year-old composer from Hunan, China. Dan wrote "Nine Songs," subtitled "Ritual Opera," inspired by the poetry of Qu Yuan, who lived from 340-277 BC.
"I felt there was absurdity, a lot of eroticism and a sense of the bizarre in his music and of course I have that in me," Posin said.
"So I made up a fable . . . about a man and a woman who are asleep by a river, and four demonic water-spirits come in to separate them. But as we see, as the ballet evolves, the most evil spirits of all are actually the man and the woman."
For the movement vocabulary, Posin combined "Asian theater movement with neoclassic ballet, with a touch of Graham technique," and based the piece on what she called "locomotive truth."
"After I wear out the four demons, I wear out the couple," she said. "I try to keep them staggering, so that someone is always dancing, sort of like breathing in and out."
Posin, who will teach at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia for a year starting in September, said she is grateful to Ballet Pacifica for the summer work.
She called the workshops--brainchild of artistic director Molly Lynch and now in their third year--"brilliant" because they offer "choreographers a chance to develop and evolve, two important words that the dance world doesn't seem to listen to."
"Too often, choreography is thrown on stage when it's not ready. For economic, social and publicity, for all the wrong reasons, it goes on stage when it's not ready and maybe shouldn't be there at all."
Whatever the cause, "The level of the art form has suffered," she said.
"What Molly is offering is a chance to underline workmanship. She's saying, 'I bet you have lots of ideas. Here's your chance to get weird and take as much risk-taking as possible in directions you're afraid to go in when critics' pencils are sharpened and the audience is sitting there.
"I can't believe large companies, with large budgets, aren't doing this," she added. But she doesn't regard her work with deathless seriousness. She describes the new piece as "an absurd comedy" which has "a bizarre and humorous quality."
"It tells a story that is like a tragic, ritual fairy tale. But fairy tales or fantasy, I believe, are the deepest expression of our emotional truths. So if this is a fantasy, I hope it has psychological soundness."
* Ballet Pacifica will present works-in-progress by Kathryn Posin, Mark Dendy, Paul Estabrook and Robert Sund on the Pacifica Choreographic Project '93, Saturday at 8 p.m. at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive. $5. (714) 642-9275.