Like the winged hood ornament on a Rolls-Royce, award-winning dancer-choreographer Loretta Livingston makes a statement. In fact, with her skillful company of dancers, Livingston, a Bella Lewitsky disciple, made a series of them Friday at the Japan America Theatre in the premiere of her "Tales From the Plate, Moving North." Not necessarily profound or palpably moving statements, though.
"Tales," commissioned by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, is Livingston's whimsical take on Los Angeles as it creeps tectonically toward Alaska. The city, sometimes considered deeply superficial, may have earthquakes, riots and floods, but it can also be a capricious paradise with quixotic allure. It is this strangely nebulous allure that Livingston cultivates, with mixed success.
She plays the dispassionate observer Angelita Luz, a towheaded, cigarette-smoking, feather-winged angel who glides across the stage on a kiddy cart one moment and high kicks a la a new age Rockette the next.
A Kate Moss with muscle, Angelita keeps watch over her band of five, who adroitly tumble, leap, primordially crawl and even tango amid Frank Romero's winsome set of movable cut-out palm trees, cars, a knifelike cross and a ubiquitous gun.
Set in six movements, "Tales" features vignettes like "Whose Fault Is This?," in which Monica Favand, Michael Mizerany, David Plettner and Madeline Soglin verbally apologize to one another for crossing boundaries etched in peat moss across the stage by Angelita. The idea is to communicate isolation, but the uneventful repetition didn't take the idea anywhere.
"The Tar Pit Motel" segment appeared to have a vacancy: A trio of dancers enigmatically thrashed about a newspaper-strewn stage.
In the final segment, the dancing was good enough that the message hardly mattered. Exhibiting great comic flair and brio, Plettner (Livingston's husband), in "Jesus de Los Temblores" (Jesus of the Earthquakes), was a crisply spasmodic, shirtless vision in a khaki suit, strutting Versace-like, albeit howling and barking, to a beautifully lit exit.
Murielle Hamilton's taped music score proved more functional than memorable, its synthesized harp pluckings and piano runs offering little aural substance. Livingston's costumes were suitably beachy and Stephen Bennett's lighting bathed the stage provocatively. Ornamentation, unfortunately, is not always enough.