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Dance Review

Between Lines Troupe Makes Daring Return

Winifred Harris' company returns at Highways with two provocative premieres that are true to the choreographer's vision.

April 06, 2002|VICTORIA LOOSELEAF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With the abundance of major dance performances in town this week, choreographer Winifred R. Harris, speaking to the audience at Highways Performance Space on Thursday night, graciously thanked them for choosing to support her troupe, the Los Angeles-based Between Lines.

And why not? Harris, an eloquent, passionate artist with a singular vision, and her company hadn't been seen for the last year. But she's back--along with six dynamic dancers, including four newcomers, and two provocative premieres.

The first of those premieres, "Things Under and Above," explored the notion of human responsibilities. Set to the gentle African musical sounds of Oumon Sangare, Youson N'dour, Baaba Maal and Anjelique Kidjo, the 20-minute work embraced an old-fashioned Cecil B. DeMille epic sensibility: Linda Broughs' neo-harem costumes (with jaunty head coverings and diaphanous veils) adorned the troupe's six women as they moved fluidly from pure balletic leaps to Martha Graham-like sculptural posings.

The exquisite veteran, Myshia Moten (a company member since 1996), set the tone with a supple back-bending solo to greet the day. Lilian Chow followed suit with an athletically infused, energetic entrance, after which Emily Jackson, Shannon Harris, Laura Laser and the seasoned Philein Wang twirled in unison, all brandishing poles as if fording a stream.

Harris' attention to detail is rigorous--the splaying of fingers, the bending of an elbow, the precise pointing of a toe--and her dancers are fiercely determined in their executions. Moten can deliver a limbo-esque shimmy; Laser, wearing her heart on well-toned arms, is a mass of pulsating emotions. Indeed, Laser is fearless, whether pushing an arabesque to the limit, reveling in the joy of pure movement or appearing wide-eyed with angst. The work, which traverses terrain from elegant to gnarly, feral to winsome, is also a treatise on dance as dreamscape.

The evening's other premiere, "Suite Contemplations," finds Harris in a more cerebral mode, focusing on the decision-making process. Making use of an odd pastiche of music (a melancholy cello riff, Enya, the Vienna Boys Choir and Sarah Brightman singing a bizarre rendition of Albinoni's Adagio), this suite of five dances features solo and group works, interspersed with Harris' taped ruminations. "At what point do you stop fighting?" "Decision, direction, determination ... "

In the wrong hands, this didacticism could backfire. Happily, the only nod to literalism here is the constant motif of thumb-twiddling, which Harris elevates to a mini art form. A quartet (Harris, Jackson, Chow and Laser) sallies forth with a new age-y minuet, expanding into backward somersaulting; Moten regales with a barrage of bare-footed flamenco-like steps and crisp plies in her solo; a trio rocks gently in silence. Showy yet simple, the suite comes alive with unfettered, seamlessly flowing technique.

Cris Capp's lighting enhanced the evening, as previously reviewed works completed a program that marked the return of a fine dance maker.

*

Winifred R. Harris' Between Lines, tonight, 8:30 p.m., Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. $15. (310) 315-1459.

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