Self-empowerment was not only the theme of many offerings on the annual Praxis Project showcase program Friday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre but is also the underlying mission of the project.
Founded in 2000 to strengthen the local dance community through low-cost workshops and master classes as well as performing opportunities, the project this year added a youth showpiece to its bill, an innovation designed to make concert dance more attractive to those in the earliest stages of a career.
Choreographed by Frit and Frat Fuller of the locally based KIN Dance Company, "D.D.S.O.S." deployed dance students from five Southland schools in work teams that eventually joined forces for feisty, unison pop-dancing before a mass collapse.
The sense of surreal fantasy within a workaday world linked the piece to earlier creations by the Fullers, among them "Pale Forest," danced by KIN on the same program. Here, Kenji Yamaguchi fled from nightmarish, on-the-job stress into an even more scary environment of rapacious street people.
These seven dancing vagrants explored an intriguing flyaway amalgam of street and pop vocabularies, with tough-guy unisons periodically enforcing a powerful solidarity.
The same feeling of unity in crisis dominated Paula Present's intense septet "Breath Among Ruins," with its full-out body-lashing, moments of private anguish and depictions of women being battered by unseen forces but always moving forward.
Stephen Christopher Contreras' "Dancing in the 'Grey' " also focused on women coping with the challenge of an ever-changing environment -- mostly on their own, but with some cooperative action. The piece opened with a meditative solo by Contreras and, however effective, its relevance to the group dances that followed never became clear.
In "Everlasting Now," Scott Putman explored an evolving relationship using Kathryn Contessa's initially tentative but increasingly bold use of pointe work to dramatize her growing self-assertion. The duet boasted artful shifts between dependence and isolation, gymnastics and ballet, but lacked an effective ending.
An abstract life cycle set to Estonian choral music, Janice Garrett's "Laulu Palju" featured a number of spectacularly intricate and often downright gorgeous ensemble sequences. But the lack of an evident premise or action plan other than following the music and the reuse of a few meager structural strategies eventually induced torpor, despite an accomplished performance by Garrett's Bay Area company.