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DANCE REVIEWS : Phoenix Dance Rises in L.A. Debut

October 03, 1994|JENNIFER FISHER

So many things can happen on your way to your theater seat. When a good performance begins, the nastier things fade. Which is what happened Saturday night, during the riveting L.A. debut of Phoenix Dance Company.

As part of the current UK/LA Festival, the 13-year-old troupe from Leeds, England, inaugurated the Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex, on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles.

To understate, the university and the theater, although completed, were not ready to host an audience. Fortunately, fine dancing can mitigate inconvenience.

To be brief, some advice: Leave lots of time actually to find the theater on the spacious, often unpopulated, dark and unmarked campus. And bring $5 exact change for the parking attendant, or else you will be turned away.

But if you find the theater, your first reward is the impressive colonnade approach, a series of tiered columns the color of pale-red earth. The main lobby is an unfortunate shade of mauve, but inside a degree of intimacy is achieved. In various configurations, the theater seats 520, 640 or 1,170. For the Phoenix performance, the balcony was closed off with a mesh curtain, a method designed to preserve the sound integrity of the hall.

Opening the program, "Shaded Limits" provided a rich statement of company hallmarks. The 10-member group displayed a seamless coalition of contemporary techniques.

There is also, in each piece, a fluid articulation of primary emotions that arrive one moment on cat's feet, the next with a sometimes literal one-two punch.

"Limits," by company member Chantal Donaldson, changed moods effectively with its recorded score. In clearly phrased solos and duets, dancers seemed to light up from within, then menace crept into their lifts, falls and supports.

The powerful vocal rhythms of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired Gary Lambert's "Longevity." Booker T. Louis and Ricardo Goodison sized each other up, tried out synchronicity, physical support and slackness, and spun into their own worlds.

Darshan Singh Bhuller's "Heart of Chaos," set in a two-sided boxing ring, alternated punishing bouts with ballroom dancing. Although the evolution of bobbing and weaving into another kind of performance had promise, the piece rambled and lost power.

No such trouble with Philip Taylor's "Sacred Space," in which dancers made temples of their bodies and the space. After breaking out of a reverently clustered choir with gestures of despair, they framed the stage on their knees and took turns to "testify" in solos of diverse, effective intensity.

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