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Gilliland Hits the Mark With Athletic Beauty


If dancer-choreographer Stephanie Gilliland were a gymnast going to the Summer Olympics, there would be little doubt she would nail her landings. Together with dancers Aimee Flora and Vince Hederman, Gilliland not only nailed landings, but also twisted, tumbled and assumed sculptural poses Isamu Noguchi would have envied in "Incline," a hypnotic, hyperphysical work that premiered at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica as part of the "Sweat! (New Dance From L.A.)" series Saturday.

Wearing tank tops, stretch pants and sneakers, the trio worked off a wooden wall angled from the floor--diving on and off and rolling the length of it--to create tableaux of beauty . . . and danger. Even in unison stasis, the dancers oozed energy, appearing suspended in space and time.

Set to a percussive techno-score, also credited to Gilliland, the troupe propelled elements of fearlessness and raw emotion: a sensual kiss between Gilliland and Flora; the tender caress between Gilliland and Hederman, offsetting a pervasive frenzy.

At midpoint, the threesome donned plaid skirts and ski caps, evoking a peasant mode. But make no mistake: This is not folk dancing, unless the folks are Gilliland and company, possessed to the point of indulging in a post-orgiastic finale, where heavy breathing became coda to Franci Hughes' sublime lighting.

Tina Gerstler/Danceworks completed the evening with three short works of her own. "Sleep State," performed by Bryan Wallk, may have had the frenzy factor, but little else. Wallk, wearing silk pajamas, a tie and a Columbo-like raincoat, alternately appeared tortured and puzzled, occasionally tossing off an arabesque to Lisbeth Scott's music.

Gerstler partnered with Frank Adams in her five-movement work "Lucid Dream." Set to Michael Convertino's score (additional material by Thomas Hart), the music featured a melange of Native American chanting and gourd shaking. Exhibiting plenty of hip undulations, swooping arm movements and nice turns, Gerstler's choreographic vision, however, lacked focus. " . . . she always thought," a U.S. premiere, proved more successful. Gerstler displayed an expressive range in a solo that included exhilarating leaps as well as a "wounded woman" demeanor. Brad Dutz's taped score was convincingly pop, enhanced by the group Massive Attack.

Overall, the evening merited some very high marks.

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