COSTA MESA — Dressed in Grecian tunics, five dancers stand on the main stage at South Coast Repertory. To the gentle pulsing of minimalist music by John Adams, they link arms and turn in a circle. Each clasps his or her hands, as if encircling an imaginary hoop.
That distinctive image is a constant in Peter Pucci's new "Myth," danced by the Irvine-based Ballet Pacifica on Saturday during a works-in-progress program.
"I just like the form, the shape around and inside the arms," Pucci told the audience after the performance. "I thought, 'What can I do with this?' "
Discussions of the works in progress are also a constant of the summer Pacifica Choreographic Project, now in its seventh season.
"We're interested in getting your feedback," artistic director Molly Lynch told the capacity audience before the program.
She explained how the company commissions four choreographers to create new works, which may be incorporated into the repertory. The productions are spare in terms of costuming or set designs. Lighting, as designed by Liz Stillwell, can be dramatic.
This year, the choreographers, besides Pucci, were Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Lou Fancher and Frank Chaves. Lynch picked them from 25 candidates who submitted videotaped work samples.
The four began working earlier this month and, after only 39 hours of rehearsal, created and polished their pieces. Such a hectic schedule took a toll on the dancers, Lynch said. One male dancer suffered an injury last week, forcing Fancher and Chaves to rework their pieces at the last minute.
Of the four, Pucci and Taylor-Corbett have national reputations. Pucci is best known for creating the fourth and final section--"Willing and Able"--in the collaborative rock ballet "Billboards," set to music by Prince for the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.
In that piece, Pucci turned up the heat and included the now-infamous gesture of a ballerina inserting her toe shoe into the mouth of a danseur. Here, however, he remained cool and reserved, mirroring the restrictive musical elements by limiting the movement motifs.
Commenting on Pucci's new work, one audience member said that the Grecian-clad dancers looked elegant. Another described them as "every girl's vision of a ballerina's jewel box." And one man joked, "I was almost waiting for one of the dancers' arms to pop out of their sockets."
Asked if the piece had anything to do with the Greeks, Pucci replied: "It had those implications. I thought of ancient Greek friezes."
Known for her "Great Galloping Gottschalk," created for American Ballet Theatre in 1982, Taylor-Corbett choreographed "Triptych," another kind of romp, for seven Ballet Pacifica dancers. She used Karl Jenkins' Baroque-flavored "Palladio" for her music.
Audience members described the work as "very happy and lovely" with lots of "freedom and energy."
But one person found the music ominous, and a boy in the audience also picked up on that element in the choreography. He saw something dark. "People were trying to suppress awareness of it," he said.
Taylor-Corbett explained that she hadn't planned a work "about people relationships," but such a piece developed.
"This was my first original work since my mom passed away. I see [in retrospect] that I was dealing with people joining and passing, first in fear then in joy."
Ballet mistress for the Alberta Ballet (1993-96), Fancher picked the first and third movements of Mozart's sublime D-minor Piano Concerto for her "Edge and Center," a work for four women and two men.
"I liked the mix of seriousness with funny things happening," a woman told the choreographer. To another question, "What led you to interpret Mozart in that way?," Fancher asked her own, "What way did I interpret it?" The answer: "Playful and light."
"I have a feeling that Mozart was a lot of fun," she said. "I like to have a dancer looking straight but doing bizarreness underneath."
Chaves, co-artistic director and resident choreographer for River North Dance Company in Chicago, created "Indus" for the company. A three-part sexy and upbeat work set to music by the pop group Dead Can Dance, the piece utilized six women and three men.
"The title comes from the name of one of the songs," Chavez said. "I use a lot of contemporary, recognizable songs. You don't have to build a story on top of the music."
A woman described the piece as "most exciting and very African." Chavez answered: "My interpretation of African. If it works for you that way, that's great. . . . I'm not a heady choreographer. I just go with the heart."