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DANCE REVIEW

A tantalizing taste of Contreras drama

September 08, 2003|Jennifer Fisher | Special to The Times

For 33 years, choreographer Gloria Contreras has forged her own contemporary ballet tradition in Mexico City, sometimes tapping into the rhythms of Latin America, often visualizing the music of towering European and Euro-American composers. Over the weekend, she brought four members of her chamber-sized company, Taller Coreografico de la UNAM, to the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach for a sampler program that was greeted with bounding enthusiasm.

On Friday night, the soft-voiced Contreras came onstage to introduce bite-sized fragments of six ballets, ending with the company's signature work, "Huapango," performed in its entirety but with a reduced cast. She gave brief information about composers or her relationship to a work, at one moment seeming to brace the audience for the 12-tone score for "Requiem for a poet," Stravinsky's "Requiem Canticles," which she described as "very arid, very dry, but very good." For this six-minute excerpt, the very sleek Claudia Hernandez, Alejandra Llorente and Mireya Rodriguez, wearing the spandex unitards that dominated the costume designs, took on robotic gestures and sculptural formations.

In short solos that were part of "Danzon" and "Rhapsody in Blue," Angel Mayren looked classically sensuous but, like the other dancers throughout, seemed a bit cramped on the museum's makeshift stage. The length of the excerpts, ranging from three to eight minutes and providing just over half an hour's actual dancing all evening, mitigated against meaningful involvement. Instead, the program possibly provided newcomers to ballet with an attractive, abbreviated introduction to Contreras' work, which is strong on direct and dramatic music visualization. Her dancers have particularly eloquent port de bras and vivid expressions, as seen especially in solos such as "Siciliana" (Rodriguez) and "Isolda" (Llorente).

"Huapango," powered by Jose Pablo Moncayo's vibrant score, proved the most engaging work of the evening. Only the second choreography Contreras produced, it combines folkloric tilts and turns with balletic complexity and rhythmic variety, speeding to a festive conclusion that brought the audience immediately to its feet. The crowd then took on its own rhythm, chanting "Glo-ria! Glo-ria!" in tribute to a choreographer who has accomplished much.

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