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DANCE REVIEW

Dancemakers Labors at Intriguing Themes

February 19, 1996|LEWIS SEGAL

Masters of a driving, percussive postmodernism, the nine-member Dancemakers company from Toronto made its local debut at UCLA on Friday with a two-part program full of intriguing thematic concepts, original music and individual performances. However, the choreography by artistic director Serge Bennathan stayed at the level of group calisthenics much of the evening, testing the dancers' stamina and the audience's patience through endless repetition.

Burdened by half a dozen false endings and an obsession with bent-knee kicks to the side ending with foot stomps, "Chronicles of a Simple Life" grew painful in a way Bennathan never intended. Framed by spoken and mimed evocations of a dead friend, his 50-minute tribute looked focused and full of feeling in duets for Gary Tai and Gerry Trentham--but increasingly confused and sometimes incoherent in the corps sequences that soon became dominant.

If the group choreography continually doubled back on itself without ever deepening, Arne Eigenfeldt's throbbing music and the solo dancing (including Carolyn Woods' intense coda) proved more artful. Bennathan's "Sable/Sand" also boasted impressive music--a rhythmic, richly textured score by Ahmed Hassan--plus one sensational dancer showpiece: a duet for Julia Aplin and Tai that defined the powerhouse post-feminist sexuality of the work more sharply than its generalized group dances.

Setting energetic warmup exercises to sensual North African-flavored music made an initial statement about culture clashes, but "Sable/Sand" developed greater interest from gender issues: the vertical gymnastics for its self-absorbed males versus weighty, low-to-the-floor aerobics by its females. Although Bennathan never took the contrast anywhere, it offered a splendid pretext for the six company women to look magnificently forceful and self-sufficient.

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