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Dancing together is fun if sometimes awkward

July 27, 2006|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

THE relationship between music and dance became highlighted and even tested in an entertaining but uneven program by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday.

The musicians and conductor Andrew Davis began the evening with a run-through of the suite from Igor Stravinsky's witty ballet score "Pulcinella" that would have been disappointing even from a scrappy ballet pit orchestra. Fortunately, all the raw tone, anemic attacks and the truly wretched buildup to the finale didn't tell the whole story, for very occasionally you could hear playing of genuine delicacy, detail and rollicking momentum.

In their Bowl debut, the Hubbard Street dancers rocketed across the wide stage with exhilarating velocity in artistic director Jim Vincent's accomplished "counter/part" (2002), and the Philharmonic provided reliable musicianship. But the score (if you can call it that) represented a barbarous dismemberment of Bach masterworks: chunks of Brandenburgs intercut with a couple of Bourees and a Prelude.

Yes, there's a long tradition of pretending that music from this era has no internal coherence and offers choreographers a grab bag of divertissements. But you could ask them to listen more closely and exercise due restraint -- that if it's Baroque, don't fix it. Please.

Besides piloting the Hubbard Street corps through refreshingly buoyant and propulsive contemporary excursions -- with arm positions and hand tremors evoking period filigree -- Vincent introduced two soloists with intense personal agendas. Dressed in green, Julia Wollrab suffered through a series of manipulative and even assaultive partnerships while Jamy Meek (draped in red but mostly naked) pursued a personal quest that only rarely dovetailed in style or energy with the priorities of the ensemble.

Cellist Ben Hong and harpist Lou Anne Neill added their solo artistry to these arresting, intimate sections.

In "Strokes Through the Tail" (2005), Irish choreographer Marguerite Donlon imposed all manner of movement jokes and costume switcheroos on Mozart's mighty Symphony No. 40 in G minor, not exactly chopped liver in the orchestral repertory. Davis and the Phil rose to the occasion with the best playing of the night, and the Hubbard Street dancers looked glorious in the passages that actually allowed them to dance to this music rather than shatter its flow with sight gags. Their torso flexibility, in particular, proved amazing.

Most of the time, however, the piece asked Cheryl Mann to strut and preen as a resident quasi-ballet diva, while everyone else (male and female) hurtled about, changing from tuxes to filmy skirts and back, aping her choices of attire. Drag sylphides, celebrity parody, pratfalls, a man in his underpants -- Donlon tried everything while Wolfgang Amadeus and the Phil made the only essential statements on that half of the program.

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