From energetic kids learning to present themselves onstage to seasoned artists premiering high-concept vehicles, the 12th edition of Spectrum: Dance in L.A. offered every kind of dance except the stale, academic variety.
In 16 pieces performed in 2 1/2 hours at the Ivar Theatre on Saturday, the latest installment in this quarterly showcase series managed to make even its unevenness a testament to the restless vitality of the local dance scene.
You want body heat? It doesn't come much hotter than Cati Jean's sex-and-violence tango, "Hombre," for eight men, performed with some uncertainty when risky lifts dominated the dancing but otherwise devastatingly secure.
You want an icy put-down of gender stereotypes? "Used Forms," a duet by Dani Lunn and Erin Hirsh, efficiently cataloged and mocked every pouty, slinky cliche that dancing women get stuck with.
Other contemporary group pieces kept this Spectrum edgy and unpredictable. In what seemed an abstraction of the Middle East conflict, Loren Denker-Slutsky and Brian Frette moved from fervent acts of worship to increasingly angry combat in their "Losing the Light" duet. Mark Swanhart's "Prajna" found him infusing a languorous female subculture with insular male energy, and Deborah Brockus' showpiece quartet "Flood" kept switching its speed and style of attack to keep her dancers and audience alert.
Best of all, Jamie Nichols' "If She Could Remember" surrounded a suffering central figure (Nichols herself) in a chair, with a vortex of dancing women, a memorable performance for its depth of feeling and unusual formal patterning.
Four women's solos explored nonliteral dance drama, often with problematic accompaniments. An intense Laura Nyro recording overwhelmed Denise Leitner's "Pathways #2," for instance, despite the remarkable freshness of Val Halon's dancing. And Lisa K. Lock's superb mastery of mood and pose in "Pending" looked insufficient when the Penderecki music suddenly exploded apocalyptically.
In contrast, Elizabeth Hoefner skillfully set the simplest moves against the lushest Samuel Barber music in "Grace Lives Here," and Narineh Ghazarians made Anna Djanbazian's "By Your Side" into a compelling statement of struggle and survival, using unlikely music originally composed for Cirque du Soleil as if it had her in mind.
In the evening's only male solo, Ken Morris' "Metamorphosis" used powerful upper-body action to camouflage weak legwork as it depicted an emergence into a new, fearful state of being.
World dance has not often been a Spectrum specialty, but Gustavo Gonzalez delivered some of the sharpest, most spirited execution on the program with "Sones Tamaulipecos" for his AguaLuna ensemble.
Far simpler in technique, Sarah Bashir's "Tangos de Malaga" served her Esencia Flamenca women capably, but Shelley Puente's challenge dance for her Everything Celtic Dance and Music Troop proved too brief to make a strong impression.
Among other disappointments, Roscoe Farnsworth's jitterbugging "Cajun Love" didn't break out of its character comedy into sustained dancing long enough to be rewarding, and Eric Henderson's pop confection "The Last Dance" looked like the first dance for the green teens of his E4D Performance Company. But you've got to start somewhere, and Spectrum is nothing if not welcoming.
Live music enhanced the Bashir, Henderson and Nichols segments.
Spectrum: Dance in L.A. #13 takes place Nov. 23. Information: (310) 645-9419.