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DANCE REVIEW : Chamber Ballet in Ambitious Program


For more than a century and a half, the moonstruck adagio has defined the art of ballet, but no longer. Perhaps due to the pace of contemporary living, perhaps because of increased demands for virtuosity on the ballet stage, legato has become virtually a dying art.

The repertory of nearly any company can furnish proof, but the nearest example might be the program by Los Angeles Chamber Ballet at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Wednesday.

This is a refined, appealing, creative group--the only resident ballet in the area that perennially offers both choreographic adventure and excellent dancing. However, all its home-grown attempts at lyricism, at matching the heartbeat and phrasing of adagio accompaniments, looked compulsively nervous.

Fred Strickler's 1988 duet "Between Friends" reflected the effervescence in Ravel's Sonatine artfully enough. But the movement kept surging even when the music subsided, making the capable Eric Skinner and Carol Guidry seem not only rushed but out of touch with the pulse of the work.

Laurence Blake's 1990 duet "Goodbye" boasted the company's classiest dancers: Victoria Koenig and Daniel Kirk, both accomplished at the work's fusion of classical steps, flashy gymnastics and intense emoting. But even they couldn't make the choreography look musical, since its thrills depended on arbitrary shifts between anger and need that often contradicted the priorities of Gordon Jenkins' jazz composition. Once again, the slowest (in this case, bluesiest) passages produced the greatest sense of dislocation.

Dislocation formed a major theme of Raiford Rogers' "Sleepwalk," a 1992 suite of group dances set to Bellini, Verdi and Dvorak arias that Rogers recently revised and expanded. The turbulence of the first part now leads to expressions of panic in a Cherubini section dominated by a giant faceless clock. Indeed, the enigmatic ending (an unhappy confrontation between Kirk and Helena Ross) suggests an even darker perspective in future installments.

Beyond its expressive ambitions, however, "Sleepwalk" tested the company's classical prowess with passages requiring principal-level technique and corps-level unanimity. Some of these tests came at unfortunate junctures in the music: slow, simple cadences that couldn't survive the hectic coming, going and lifting imposed on them.

For true adagio artistry, the company ventured a borrowed classic: Airi Hynninen's staging of Antony Tudor's 1971 "Continuo." This plotless response to the Pachelbel Canon gloried in the authenticity of impulse that Strickler, Blake and Rogers failed to achieve, the feeling of communion that occurs when choreographer, composer and dancers are on exactly the same wavelength. In an uneven, diligent performance, Tzer-Shing Wang came closest to the glowing calm at the core of the piece.

The program closed with Blake's "The Troupe," a brand-new, brightly performed big-top showpiece that reworked ideas from "The Nutcracker," "Cakewalk," "Parade" and "Les Patineurs" with plenty of vivacity but no style whatsoever. If adagio is currently a dying art in ballet, this charade demonstrated that the demi-caractere divertissement is merely a lost cause.

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