Adrenaline kicked into overdrive when the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company shredded the stage of the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Friday with brute power, dizzying energy and unlimited stamina in a program dedicated to Southern California's preeminent choreographer, Donald McKayle. The four works included a world premiere tribute to McKayle, "Mighty Fortress," set to Bach's Cantata No. 80 by company artistic director Kevin Ward.
With such potent music--and tackling no less a subject than talking to God--this 25-minute, eight-part suite could have used a shot of divine intervention: The choreography proved scattershot, with little cohesion, save for the dancers continually gazing heavenward. Dressed in Ward's white costumes, the dozen performers were certainly kept busy enough--leaping, skipping, falling backward--but fluidity and sense of purpose were lacking.
Amid the perpetual motion, however, there were moments of beauty: A male trio--Ricardo J. Garcia Cruz, Daniel Marshall and Alvin J. Rangel--offered nifty handstands; a deftly executed pas de deux by DeShona Pepper and G.D. Harris featured a brazen one-arm lift; and Monnette Bariel's vigorous solo saw her hoisted overhead as if in a sacrificial rite. Another highlight was the phenomenal Sheri "Sparkle" Williams, a 28-year company veteran whose exuberance and technique awed in her pristine solo.
Indeed, Williams opened the program as the sole woman in McKayle's seminal 1959 work, "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," a chain-gang opus that addresses oppression. Performed by companies around the world, Dayton premiered it in 1987. It is testament to McKayle's genius that his taut choreography, cutting an emotional swath, remains vital today.
Emotions also soared in "Children of the Passage," made for the company by McKayle and Ronald K. Brown in 1999. Previously reviewed, the dancers joyously let loose to the live, raucous sounds of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Completing the program: Bebe Miller's West Coast premiere, "Aerodigm" (2002), an abstract exploration of flight that failed to take off,with arbitrary prancing aggravated by a nonsensical voice-over and unflattering costumes.