In its ninth year of showcasing local dancers and choreographers, Jazz Dance L.A. offered a marketplace of steps Sunday at Cal State L.A.
Performed by about 90 volunteer dancers -- most of them freelancers not affiliated with any performing company -- 11 short pieces and one video tribute to dancer-choreographer-teacher Joe Tremaine reflected the vitality and artistic potential of the Southland's jazz, rock and commercial dance scene.
However, most of the pieces stayed in the shadow of the opening segment, Claude Thompson and Keny Long's "Killer Joe," partly because this powerhouse male octet gave the Luckman Theatre audience its first look at dynamic structural ploys that would be reiterated throughout the afternoon.
But its most indelible achievement was the dimension and detail of the dancing.
Where other groups simply flapped their limbs on cue, the "Killer Joe" cast produced arm movement from deep within the back and leg action just as deeply from the pelvis, projecting everything to the next galaxy.
There's no shortcut to the effect that this kind of dancing generates -- certainly not in the well-drilled but shallowly produced execution that so many of the other groups offered. Exceptions included the men in Jackie Sleight-Carter and Michael Rooney's celebratory "Legends of the Lost Art," the street-style tappers in Chance Taylor's gritty "This One's for Hama" and nearly everyone in Kenji Yamaguchi's ritualistic "Against the Wind," one of the few pieces that tried to tell a story or create a distinctive style.
Enlisting the members of her Jazz Spectrum Dance Company, Christine Baltes' "I Love You ... I'll Kill You" introduced a melodramatic narrative at the very last moment but spent most of its length pumping out classroom step-combinations. And most of the other choreographers didn't even pretend that dance could be anything else. At best, you could expect costuming flair, but, sooner or later, it would all come down to the same double-turns in place with arms flung wide at the end.
A love duet with no love in it, Doug Caldwell's florid "One Hand, One Heart" represented the most extreme example of step-obsession, requiring the exemplary Brook Lipton and Mark Meismer to periodically embrace but otherwise flingtheir technique in the audience's teeth.