The Los Angeles Dance Invitational is a benefit like no other. While strengthening its previous commitments to supporting gay and lesbian charities and also honoring some of the best dance teachers, this annual volunteer event has evolved into an exciting showcase of new work and companies ready for major recognition.
The sixth edition, Saturday at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, featured segments that explained the mission of the Trevor Project (a suicide prevention organization for gay teens) and summarized the career of dancer, choreographer and tap instructor Dean Barlow, winner of this year's Stanley Holden Award for distinguished teaching.
However, the talk sessions remained subordinate to the skill and spirit of 14 pieces (eight of them new, or local premieres) in a wide range of styles.
Nobody danced with anything less than secure professionalism -- except for the deliberately inept corps in Richard Kuller's irresistibly charming comic lament "Can't Make Money Tappin.' " And if the five choreographers for the Funkanometry Dance Company produced a mess of a medley, the company itself delivered superbly precise, hard-edged execution.
The evening began with gracious, communal Hawaiian folklore, courtesy of Mikilani Young-Tamashiro's Halau Hula 'O Kawahineali 'Inoho 'Ikeanuenue- 'Elua. It ended with aggressive, large-scale group folklorico from Jose Vences' accomplished Grandeza Mexican Folk Ballet Company.
In between came spectacular if curiously unmusical displays of tap technique from soloists Bob Carroll and 2004 L.A. Music Center Spotlight Award winner Melinda Sullivan. In contrast, Hilary Thomas offered a solo titled "Season Beyond Innocence" that hid technique behind the convulsive, fearful actions of a woman working through the aftermath of some mysterious ordeal.
More mystery turned up in two ensemble pieces: Tracie Stanfield's strongly choreographed contemporary ritual, "Sircle," for her Synthesis Dance Project, and Janell Burgess' murkier "Unencoded" (maybe depicting relationships as a trap, maybe not). Doug Caldwell's "Free Again" celebrated carefree bachelorhood with no great originality but also no lapses in clarity.
Several contemporary duets began impressively and then stumbled because they couldn't link their opening and closing sections (Tye Gillespie's "Dances We Do"), or developed a pointless obsession with production effects (Maija Garcia and Michelle Bolong's "Pulse").
Happily, Kitty McNamee's "fits & starts" proved more cohesive, inventively using an original score by Anna Clyne to bedevil her Hysterica Dance Company duo, Tara Nicole and Scott Hislop, and suggest how a need for intimacy can be short-circuited in modern life.
Completing the program (and one of its big hits): the previously reviewed Hassan Christopher/Marissa Labog bench duet from "Move Your Meet."
The Hawaiians, Carroll and Kuller had the benefit of live accompaniment, and Barlow's tribute had the benefit of a witty career summary provided by musical comedy veteran Betty Garrett. Howard Ibach again served as executive producer.