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DANCE REVIEW : 'Kaleidoscope': The Showcase Is the Thing


It has been a long time since anyone really believed that "Dance Kaleidoscope" presents the best of Southern California dance. Indeed, the six or seven most celebrated local companies no longer seek to appear in this annual showcase series, and the emerging rebels of the community are increasingly unwelcome to a selection panel dominated by academics.

No, in its six years at Cal State Los Angeles, "Dance Kaleidoscope" has become a kind of trade show: the place where isolated local artists and their followers can gain a sense of what others have been doing for the past 12 months and perhaps even achieve a fleeting sense of connection.

Certainly "Kaleidoscope" looms large in the Southland's dance consciousness. You may create exciting work for sellout crowds elsewhere (Jacques Heim, for example) but remain something of a non-person to your colleagues if you're rejected here. Or you can become a "Kaleidoscope" fixture and somehow matter in the local firmament even if nobody ever sees you anyplace else (Patricia Sandback, among others).

The opening of "Dance Kaleidoscope '94," at the State Playhouse on Friday raised the usual questions about the selection process. (For starters, how many judges on the 11-member panel actually attend local dance events on a regular basis?)

Most of the 10 pieces on Program A seemed chosen for craftsmanship rather than originality, and a sense of the unique dangers and tensions of living in this place at this moment seldom intruded on the well-made etudes on view. Instead, the subject of relationships emerged as the preoccupation of nearly half the artists.

In "Umbrellas," for instance, mimes Keith Berger and Sharon Diskin (a.k.a. the Chameleons) offered a neatly performed, coy skit about two commuters blown together and then apart by a capricious storm. Nothing Shields and Yarnell couldn't have done in the mid-'70s--and nothing worth remembering now.

Similarly, "Pedestals and Precipices" found modern dancers Phyllis Gomer and Clyde Howell (the Bridge Dance Theatre) dutifully executing a clenched, marriage-is-hell duet on boxes and chairs accompanied by an insidious and far more compelling sound score (based on newspaper personal ads) by Becky Allen.

Also outclassed by the accompaniment: Jean Isaacs' "Women's Songs," performed to records by Tori Amos and Annie Lennox. Strongly danced by the choreographer, the twisty, turbulent opening solo provided nothing more than a kind of generalized gloss on Amos, while the pileup of grotesqueries in Isaacs' duet with Ricardo Peralta never grew trenchant enough to savage the sentimentality of Lennox's hit.

Harry Gilbert's very accomplished musicianship also nearly upstaged Heidi Duckler's solo "Mr. Westinghouse," a wry satire on domesticity danced atop, around and sometimes inside an old refrigerator. (Kids: Do NOT try this at home.) However, Judith Lieff's gymnastic skill and mastery of the mock tragic helped keep this latest Collage Dance Theatre vehicle full of surprises.

Best of the family-values repertory on Friday: Blue Palm's ecstatic and nearly danceless "Pour Madeleine," in which Jacqueline Planeix and Tom Crocker none-too-convincingly summarized the terrors of approaching parenthood--and then introduced the sunny, 10-month-old Madeleine McLeod Planeix-Crocker to prove they were wrong, wrong, wrong.

Two works previously--and enthusiastically--reviewed in these pages dominated the abstract or postmodern half of the program. Much more powerfully performed than at its premiere, Stephanie Gilliland's quintet "The Men's Piece" celebrated male bonding and athleticism but added a potent infusion of emotional sensitivity and sensuous self-awareness.

Danced outdoors on the plaza at intermission, Mehmet Sander's familiar ramp sextet, "Obtuse Space," looked freshly dangerous in its full-force body slams, and newly miraculous in its successful defiance of gravity.

Otherwise, the program's most original piece may have been Dawn Stoppiello's solo "In Plane" for Troika Ranch. Wearing a transmitter that reportedly converted her motion into sound and lighting effects, she interacted with video images of herself in intriguing live-versus-tape duets. On video, you can eliminate movement transitions by cutting directly from one position to another--and Stoppiello did just that, artfully synchronizing the edited tape with her smoother onstage performance of the same passages.

Lit from below, Lisa K. Lock writhed strikingly on a tabletop to a mixture of pounding rhythms and static in "Within." However, her spotlighted sculptural solo scarcely began to evoke "all the violence and unwritten laws of a society which can be limiting to an individual's growth" outlined in her program note.

Gestural signals and cycles of high-speed lifts unified Patricia Sandback's cool, athletic showpiece "Trio," arguably as backdated in style as the Chameleons' character mime in "Umbrellas" but carefully structured--and sharply performed--by Tonnie Haig, Tye Gillespie and David Boyd.

Perhaps because most of the dancers are used to intimate studio spaces, few of the pieces on Friday were projected at optimum scale in terms of energy or emotion. With four programs left to go in the series (two of them at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre), it would be very, very helpful if all the participants looked on "Dance Kaleidoscope" as a great personal opportunity instead of some pro forma pass-fail assignment. Some artists would have killed for this chance. Don't make us wish they had.

* "Dance Kaleidoscope," Program B, State Playhouse, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive, Friday, 8 p.m. Program C, Saturday, 8 p.m. and next Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Program D, John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood, Aug. 6, 10 a.m.; Program E, Aug. 6, 8 p.m. $15, (213) 466-1767.

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