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Hysterica ricochets off its past glories

August 06, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Surviving 10 years in Los Angeles is something for any contemporary ensemble to celebrate. But an unrelieved pileup of excerpts and short pieces made the retrospective program by Kitty McNamee's Hysterica Dance Company at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Friday seem not merely scattershot but something like a dance obituary: a glimpse of achievements by the dear departed.

Yes, there were five premieres in the 20-part performance, proving that Hysterica is still alive and twitching, if not kicking. The company has always been notable for fusing street style, street wear and pop dance with a vision of the nastier patterns of exploitation, manipulation and repression in our society. All that's still true. But how many times in an evening do we need to see people tortured by electronic music? Or relationships failing? Or women abused? Or men beaten up?

In the past, McNamee and her choreographic collaborators had proved adept at exploring, developing and deepening such concepts. But as the company rummaged and ricocheted through its rep Friday, a numbness set in -- a sense that, however skillful the dancing, we'd always be kept on the outside of the Hysterica gestalt, given what travel agents call a panoramic tour but scarcely ever stopping long enough for a genuine experience.

McNamee enforced maximum variety through her choices of music (swoony Mahler, edgy Mt. Sims, doleful Dolly Parton) and the alternately filmy, flashy, fragmentary costumes, mostly by company co-director Ryan Heffington and Grey Ant. But the dancing stayed uniformly full-out -- no highs and lows, light and shadow, just manic and depressive.

A little of both, the structurally adventuresome quintet "Refugee" (from "Rapture") wasn't any better danced or choreographed than the other McNamee oldies, but it lasted long enough to go somewhere after its opening -- and even to double back -- which made it one of the highlights.

The new pieces all had plenty of promise. Brutality chic reached its zenith in "Rise and Fall," a men's quintet by Charles "Bubba" Carr full of inventive gymnastic clusters and towers as well as a drum-driven martial arts vocabulary. Nina McNeely's untitled ensemble piece aimed for dance theater in its voyeuristic glimpses of people caught in the glare of hand-held spots as if suddenly revealed by drive-by headlights while having sex or committing crimes.

Adroitly crafted, Heffington's intense, unresolved relationship duet "Twilight Conditions" focused on intimate floor work and unpredictable gymnastic partnering. Flavored with vaguely Asian stances, Mecca Vazie Andrews' playful dance drama "Home of the Noble" emphasized the process of healing or calming antic individuals. And McNamee's "Crush" displayed her growing sophistication in the use of classical music, making a Beethoven violin sonata the accompaniment for intriguing partnering experiments and fleeting but distinctive romantic linkups.

New Hysterica dancer discoveries included Stephanie Landwehr's indomitable self-possession no matter what the choreography or partnering challenges, Logan Schyvynck's talent for executing radical torso contortions while on the run and Marlon Pelayo's knack for body shudders so fast and sharp they almost looked like krumping.

Among familiar pleasures, it was nice to enjoy again McNeely's sheer bravery, Heffington's nervy bravado and Scott Hislop's ability to endow adagio partnering with all sorts of disturbing character undertones. Along with 10 other dancers, the remarkable Andrews and Carr were also briefly on view, their power muted on this occasion.

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