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'Split' a hit or miss smorgasbord

May 12, 2003|Jennifer Fisher | Special to The Times

It could be very hard for the ongoing Split and Spectrum dance series to attract a following, given their erratic quality. For one thing, they always include Brockus Project Dance Company, one of the weakest local dance troupes, in what could only be described as "vanity presenting," given the fact that Deborah Brockus spearheads these smorgasbord evenings. Like Kaleidoscope before them, the programs hit and miss, seeming to lack rigorous, forward-thinking artistic direction.

The third "Split: Dance In and Out of L.A.," at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Saturday night, for instance, featured only one viable theme -- the dancing body as a heroic machine -- and that had its ups and downs. The most successful moments came from New York-based Elisa Monte Dance, in two pieces centered mostly on dexterous, slow-moving duets and one trio.

"Treading," the company's signature piece, from 1979, featured Natalie Turner and Kevin Goodwine in gray-smudged unitards, unfolding and intertwining with tension and luxuriance. They nailed balances in difficult, half-raised postures and pulsed majestically like strong birds of prey to the steaming flow of a Steve Reich score. When the two engaged in controlled rolling on the floor, molding themselves into unusual, sculptural lifts and balances meant to be admired, it looked like an ultra-refined form of contact improvisation.

Monte's "Volkmann Suite" (1996) went even further in the direction of creative partnering and what might be called "pretzel-influenced classicism." Dressed only in skin-tight black trunks, Turner, Goodwine and Marden Ramos accomplished miracles of cantilevering and artful acrobatics. For a while, this suggested a beautifully fluid interdependence; eventually, it seemed as if Michael Nyman's evocative violins and cello carried all the emotional resonance, and the dance became a formal exercise of limited interest. Monte was once a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, as well as Pilobolus, and her choreography looks decidedly more imprinted by the latter.

The heroic pose, coupled with a steely, thrusting exactitude, pervaded excerpts from Bernard Gaddis' new "Noche de las Companas." It was close to being an elegant, empty ballet exercise, although Eliezer Rabello, Nicole Smith and Demar Braxton of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre gave it their all. Dressed in very little, they stretched, swirled and faced front with military resignation, their limbs catching unpredictably cued pools of light (technical cues misfired or were delayed all evening).

An unfortunate program-order decision meant that this piece was followed by "Treading" and Kitty McNamee's "Victorious," both of which also used the "dancer standing in dramatic overhead lighting" effect. But McNamee departed from the others in costumes and dance vocabulary. In "Victorious," recently revised, four of her Hysterica Dance Company members wore fragments of corsets, ruffled sleeves and chokers as they tiptoed, tilted, arched and slumped into the floor.

Enigmatic interactions between enigmatic characters appeared to be a McNamee theme, as did the doll-like, mechanical shifting that dotted "Victorious" and her "Velvet," a premiere. To the Middle Eastern-sounding score by John Zorn for "Velvet," Lisa K. Lock and Mecca Andrews engaged in stiff little tangos and retreats, sending each other messages by pirouetting, jumping into each other's arms, fluttering a hand or casting a curious stare while circling. Both looked like odd vignettes that didn't add up to much.

The remaining three works on the program were Brockus' jejune, less-than-expertly danced "Always Ever Amber" (1998, excerpts) and "Staring Into the Sun" (2001), and Lula Washington's "Rites 2000" (excerpt), which consisted of hammy, good-natured clowning that seemed highly appropriate for an end-of-year dance recital or children's matinee.

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