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DANCE REVIEW : L.A. Chamber Ballet Joins Lo-Cal Ensemble in Program

August 22, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE WRITER

After several seasons of obsessive navel-gazing and desperate eclecticism, Los Angeles Chamber Ballet rediscovered its sense of purpose in a modest but highly promising collaboration with the Lo-Cal Composers Ensemble at the Japan America Theatre on Saturday.

Formed in 1981, Chamber Ballet came to prominence in a series of distinctive projects that caught the look, sound and energy of the local art scene with an immediacy that made most other resident regional ballet companies look pathetically out of touch.

That sense of connection to this city and this moment informed new ensemble ballets by Laurence Blake and Raiford Rogers on Saturday, with Lo-Cal Composers Murielle Hamilton, Carlos Rodriguez and Christopher Guardino also presenting effective premieres of their own without choreographic enhancement.

Unfortunately, Chamber Ballet didn't enlist any local visual artists for this event, so all its dances looked scenically bare and utilitarian. However, the Lo-Cal Composers managed to add a dimension of theatrical splendor to each of its segments and the level of performance remained impressive.

With the Greene String Quartet seated on the left, Blake's "Delta Dervish" developed playful juxtapositions of classicism and vernacular motion for seven dancers that adroitly paralleled the building blocks of Roger Neill's jaunty score. Both music and dance reveled in speed, stabbing accents and bold changes of landscape.

Rogers' septet "Cabin Fever" began and ended like yet another installment in his familiar sleep-dancing series. However, Sandra Tsing Loh's lush, breezy concerto for piano and invisible (phantom?) orchestra clearly inspired him to a bracing, wide-awake showpiece punctuated by bursts of mass swooping and teetering--plus splashy opportunities for such paragons as Daniel Kirk and Pallas Sluyter.

Enhanced by swirling light effects, Hamilton's "shed, swoon & skank" began in a moody wash of textures and then explored contrasts between the metallic percussion of MB Gordy and Joel C. Hamilton's bowing and fingering gambits on bass. Soon, however, their duet grew conventionally melodic and even jazzy, as if somehow pulled back in time.

Nostalgia also dominated Christopher Guardino's lush "Two Songs" for mezzo Stephanie Vlahos. In the first--"Entry, October 15" to a poem by Walter Benton--she sang unaccompanied, reclining on the floor as she reflectively invoked feelings that seemed heartfelt. In "Amour d'ete" (text by Guardino's father), she leaned against a piano and sang in a mannered cabaret style, as if feelings were merely another glamorous enhancement of her performing image.

On a stage strewn with luminous Ping-Pong balls, Marcus N. Eley played Carlos Rodriguez's "Crazed Corollaries" for amplified and processed clarinet. Manipulated by foot switches, the sound of the instrument could resemble everything from a train whistle to a whole woodwind section--capabilities explored with wit and virtuosity.

Completing the program: a revival of Blake's 1992 dance-drama "Tunnel" to music by Eric Ruskin. Powerfully danced by an 11-member cast led by the tireless John Funk, it provided a reminder of what Chamber Ballet looked like at its most pointlessly grandiose, with all the claptrap of contemporary European Neo-Expressionism imposed on a generation of American dancers born for better.

If the company truly has stopped straining for weight and scale in this manner--and has returned for inspiration to the other creative artists of this city--this special collaborative event will have proved not merely successful but redemptive.

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