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Moments of beauty, minus daring

Parijat Desai and troupe execute the dances well, but they don't advance the choreographer's groundbreaking style.

March 26, 2007|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Possessed of beguiling eyes, pliant feet and willowy arms, choreographer and performer Parijat Desai has proved adept at fusing the classical South Indian idiom bharata natyam with modern dance, yoga and martial arts. Her talents were again on display Friday at the Skirball Cultural Center, this time with her New York-based, five-member Parijat Desai Dance Company.

The envelope that Desai pushed while an L.A. resident, however, is in need of more Western edge. In the reworked "Quiet/Fire," which premiered at California Plaza in 2001, the thrill of live taiko drumming was replaced with a new score -- on tape -- that did little to enhance a half-hour suite built on the notion of quelling violence through empathy.

Still, the dancers-cum-warriors clad in ankle bells offered moments of sublime beauty, whether striking one-legged poses (Riyo Mito), furiously spinning (Mohan Kulasingam) or assuming tai-chi-like stances (Cindy Chung). Desai also displayed clean rhythmic attacks, her slapping feet creating a percussive symphony, her arms thrown open in joy. The unison stomping was particularly effective, while yin-yang, push-pull components were woven throughout a piece that could nevertheless benefit from judicious editing.

In "Still Rewiring," a 15-minute work in progress recalling "Rewired" from 2000, Desai continued mining matters of identity and multiculturalism. Here the dancers also spoke -- generally an iffy practice -- occasionally with levity. Rounded out by Emi Komatsuzaki, the quintet, barefoot but sans ankle bells, moved to a taped track that included electronica and ragas.

Mixing elements of Broadway hip-swaggering with balletic pirouettes, leaps and splayed-finger plies, Desai's choreography brought the realities of adapting to a complex world deep into the movement, though more partnering and less talk might enliven the number.

Completing the program was Desai's 1998 "The Wall." Set to music from the state of Gujarat, the choreographer's fascinating evocation of a tradition-bound woman who lost her husband, ergo her identity, featured Desai manipulating a stretchy length of fabric. But the metaphoric sense of confinement faded when the other four dancers took to the floor.

In the past, Desai broke exhilarating new ground. One hopes she can now move forward instead of serving up well-executed retreads.

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