The major discovery of the "Black Choreographers" festival earlier this year, Winifred R. Harris brought special distinction to the final "Prime Moves" program at Cal State Los Angeles on Friday with the premiere of a women's trio titled "Like a Deer in Headlights."
After an eerie gestural prologue behind a scrim, Harris and two members of her Between Lines company surged into familiar stylistic turf: a sleek, slick pop dance showpiece.
But like those computer simulations that dissect a living body layer by layer, Harris immediately began dismantling this all-American style--highlighting the tension between its balleticisms and Africanisms, discovering and isolating a strange, volatile core of emotion.
As emotion engulfed the piece, the subject shifted from Americana to America itself. With even her costumes (one bare leg, one covered) enhancing the theme of division, Harris used the dancers' pull against gravity to express struggle and resistance, but she also dramatized the cost: under each pointed-toe extension, a quivering hand.
Equally bold and intuitive, Steven Moshier's music proved an indispensable adjunct to a plotless, pure-dance experience that powerfully reflected the conflicts and dangers of the '90s.
Even in a very uneven performance, "Like a Deer in Headlights" confirmed Harris as very possibly the finest African-American choreographer working in the Southland since Donald Byrd went East and Donald McKayle went free-lance.
Like Harris, San Francisco choreographer Robert Henry Johnson incorporated ballet, modern and African dance in a richly textured personal style, and his opening solo in "Untitled" had so many spectacular shifts of impetus--and so much state-of-the-art feline slink--that he nearly made "Prime Moves" his personal property.
Unfortunately, his two group sections assembled an array of flashy and often overfamiliar movement effects with no evident structure, focus or purpose, relying too religiously on that classic advice to fledgling ballet choreographers: "When in doubt, jete out."
Three sections of Tina Gerstler's intimate "Luna" series looked remote and generalized--their energies dimmed, their details lost on a proscenium stage.
Dominated by inventive hand and arm motion, her gutsy "Nova" solo emerged the strongest, while the tentatively executed "Nebula" trio never reached the flash point where formal patterning and emotional values fused.
The new "QSO" section suffered from confusing plot points, but even if you hadn't a clue why Frank Joseph Adams replaced Jean Landry in the central body-cluster, Gerstler's mastery of swoop and swirl kept you watching.
In her "Immediate States" for Los Angeles Modern Dance and Ballet, Naomi Golberg displayed prodigious spatial, structural and technical savvy along with refined musicality.
Shaped by ballet placements, her formal three-part suite also deftly incorporated other movement idioms, and developed a restless, almost feverish attack without losing its striking classical purity.
But her program note suggested creative intentions often impossible to detect in the meticulously crafted dancing--namely "ecstatic states of being ranging from controlled rage to uninhibited joy."