Although John Malashock makes dances just as restless, sinewy and eclectic as any by his postmodern counterparts, there's also a rugged, heroic beauty to them that links him to the generation of modern dance pioneers. Based in San Diego for the last eight years, this former Tharp dancer brought his accomplished seven-member company to Bovard Auditorium at USC on Tuesday for a three-part program in the early-evening "Spectrum" series.
Several times he used sheer kinetic force to reinvigorate forms and subjects that have grown dangerously over-familiar, producing movement from deep within the muscles and releasing it with such physical intensity that it seemed to glow in the dark. Take "Tribes," created this year to music by Yale Strom and Klazzj. You might describe it as a jazz-ballet in which down-and-out types form a multicultural underclass--but the '90s platitudes about diversity ultimately mattered less than the surging current of energy and feeling that fused seven individuals into a community.
Company veteran Maj Xander gave her farewell performance here and superb guest dancer Friedrich Buhrer assumed Malashock's own role of the dynamic outsider. Buhrer also joined Tammy Dunsizer for the dramatic duet that opened the suite from "Window Dressers" (1994; music by Gorecki), in which the concept of people sheltering one another emotionally and architecturally inspired some of Malashock's most soulful group compositions.
Gymnastic body sculpture a la Pilobolus dominated "The Near Reaches" (1994), set to 15th century Sephardic songs but evoking an ancient or mythic culture of great splendor and sensuality. The Malashock women proved especially impressive here and if the work itself sometimes approached a perfumed exoticism and even prettiness, the physical commitment of the performance steered it clear of empty decoration.
Besides the dancers already named, the company included Eun-Jung Choi, Peter Kalivas, Christopher Morgan and Gwen Hunter Richie. Malashock didn't dance but welcomed the audience and encouraged its imaginative participation in the performance--not exactly difficult on Tuesday.