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It's been 10 mad years

Kitty McNamee and Hysterica Dance are set to celebrate in explosive style.

July 29, 2007|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

THE bevy of long-limbed lovelies executing neo-Charleston moves in last year's Los Angeles Opera production of "La Traviata" would seem to have little in common with bisexual comic Margaret Cho, who, during her stage show "The Sensuous Woman," can be seen peeling off her clothes as part of a steamy striptease.

For choreographer Kitty McNamee, the guiding force behind both dance segments, it's business as usual. The heart of that business is Hysterica Dance Company, the locally based troupe McNamee founded in 1997 that is known for its raw explosive movement style. To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, 15 past and present company members will reunite Friday for "Hysterica X," a performance at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre.

Talk about straddling high and low culture. Moving among the commercial, opera and concert dance worlds with the agility of a Cirque du Soleil star, McNamee has been a formidable presence on the L.A. scene since shortly after her arrival, some 15 years ago. It is as Hysterica's artistic director, however, that she can fully express her vision: Exposing the underbelly of pop culture through catwalk-worthy costuming and mind-warping music, McNamee wraps it in a kind of contemporary choreography that speaks -- no, shouts -- to today's alienated society.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 29, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Dance company: An information box with an article about the Hysterica Dance Company in today's Calendar section shows an incomplete telephone number for ordering tickets. The number is (323) 461-3673.

This from a rather mild-mannered, Ohio-born, Texas-schooled 39-year-old who came to this city with thoughts of being an actor. But soon after hooking up with Hollywood's Open Fist Theatre Company and choreographing its plays in the early '90s, she found her real footing, dance making.

And that crossover thing? A bugaboo for many artists, it's no issue for McNamee. "I'm not upset I'm called pop," says the blue-eyed McNamee during a rehearsal break at Hollywood's Edge Performing Arts Center, where she teaches.

"We've always been considered pop-influenced, and pop is popular, so that's fine with me," adds McNamee, who choreographed a number from "Dick Tracy" for Stephen Sondheim's 75th birthday bash at the Hollywood Bowl two years ago.

Her work with Hysterica, she says, has allowed her to develop not only her own voice but also has given her confidence in other areas too.

"That," adds McNamee, "spilled into my commercial work, and the aesthetics of some of the commercial work spill back into the company."

Indeed, McNamee and original Hysterica hoofer Ryan Heffington, the company's co-artistic director and costume designer, also created a Busby Berkeley-like number for an episode of Showtime's "The L Word." Performed by a sextet of female Hystericans, the segment aired in February.

Friday's performance, Hysterica's fourth appearance at the Ford's bucolic outdoor theater, will include excerpts from every show the company has ever presented, including the critically acclaimed "Sticks and Stones," "Noir" and "Water and the Well," the troupe's first full-evening creation. Of the 1999 "Water" premiere, The Times' Lewis Segal cited the women as "especially adept at giving pop dance cliches maximum credibility and then showing the exploitation and fear underneath."

Since then, Hysterica has continued to garner kudos as well as deepen its own brand of chic postmodernism, plumbing the depths of isolation, eroticism, relationships and angst-ridden emotions coursing through daily existence. .

Since its early days, the troupe, generally numbering eight, has performed at venues ranging from the Open Fist Theatre and Highways Performance Space to REDCAT, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and in Palm Springs, San Diego and New York City.

In addition to performing in New York three years ago at the Joyce Soho and the Manhattan School of Music, members of Hysterica took to the city's fashion runways in September for a showing of Grey Ant's spring collection, designed by Grant Krajecki. New York magazine said the event was "hypnotic.... We never wanted it to end." Hysterica will perform in Brooklyn's Wave Rising Series in October.

Company woman

McNAMEE, who grew up in Ashland, Ohio, before her family moved to Texas when she was a teen, earned a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Texas, Austin. Studying dance, with an emphasis on modern techniques, she soon discovered her strength was in performance.

After a brief stint in New York, she headed to L.A., where, she says, working with the Open Fist's Martha Demson, "a light bulb went off and I came to my senses. Choreography was easy for me, but that didn't mean it didn't have value. I realized that was what I was supposed to be doing."

The troupe's name, Hysterica, popped into McNamee's head for the company's inaugural outing and stuck. "Technically, it means female madness, and it has Ophelia connotations, but it's appropriate, because the men in my company have a strong feminine side. They're not super butch or props like ballet partner prop guys. They're exploring all sides of themselves and aren't held to purely masculine movements."

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