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Variety, brevity smooth partners

`Celebrate Dance' lets emerging companies shine and then drops the curtain before the magic wears off.

March 05, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Like other local mixed bills, Jamie Nichols' annual "Celebrate Dance" programs at the Alex Theatre offer audiences a wide range of styles from mostly emerging Southern California companies.

For the companies, the advantages include being produced with greater technical sophistication -- especially when it comes to lighting -- than they usually receive in smaller studio venues.

Plus, as the latest edition proved on Saturday night, many of the choreographers benefit from being showcased in short excerpts rather than in the full-evening productions that they normally self-present. So everybody wins.

Case in point: a trio from TRIP Dance Theatre's "Beneath the Water." Aglow with Eileen Cooley's most sumptuous and silvery lighting effects, this contemporary portrait of marine life capitalized on Monica Favand Campagna's bold costume and movement stylization -- and ended just when the repetitions and lack of development grew obvious.

Similarly, it was fun watching choreographer Patrick David Bradley highlight the freshness and verve of his San Pedro City Ballet cast in a Mozart romp titled "Ruckus."

But all the resourceful sleight-of-hand (and foot) could not completely camouflage limitations of training and experience -- so it was good that the company quit while it was ahead.

Nobody on the eight-part bill outdanced the companies run by Orange County's Jennifer Backhaus and San Francisco's Viktor Kabaniaev.

In "Push," an imaginative, brilliantly realized Backhaus partnering experiment, Andrea Brache and William Lu always seemed to be leaning into each other, balanced at the most precarious angles, absolute in their trust.

In contrast, tense isolation ruled Kabaniaev's trio "Largo," except for one passage of quasi-accidental togetherness and a few unisons deliberately leading nowhere.

Cynthia Sheppard, Molly Mather and Haley Lamb could twist, contort or slump as if crushed by some undefined calamity, then suddenly, impressively stretch into perfect balletic balances in extension. State of the art....

Pat Taylor's somber "Sankofa" also started powerfully, but the piece declined into insufficiency because most of the members of her JazzAntiqua septet couldn't dance up to the level of a classic Langston Hughes poem used as accompaniment/inspiration. As always, Jeremiah Tatum managed to bring an unforced eloquence to Taylor's choreography.

In his sextet "Ole Gitano," Albertossy Espinoza provided a bridge between the program's contemporary and folkloric selections.

But his amalgamation of flamenco steps and slinky nuevo bolero partnering supported an unworthy concept: a harem fantasy juvenile to the core. Pamela Debiase served as Espinoza's first and most perfectly matched partner.

Vivacity and well-drilled execution carried the Anna Djanbazian company through its two one-note Iranian women's pieces, "Joy Lifted to the Heavens" (featuring Araz Ranjbar) and "Golden Veil."

The same qualities helped sustain Viver Brasil's equally uneventful women's quintet, "Tribute to Carnival Queens," credited to Rosangela Silvestre, Luiz Badaro and Dani Lunn. Here, at least, live music added another dimension to the celebratory choreography, with singer Katia Moraes being especially prominent.

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