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L.A. Invitational steps into wild partnering

September 17, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Originally a celebrity-laden charity benefit with little artistic interest, the Los Angeles Dance Invitational has developed into a valuable showcase for new choreography. And the eighth edition, on Saturday at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, performed that function splendidly, serving in piece after piece as a laboratory for radical partnering experiments.

But this kind of barefoot, gymnastic-oriented modernism had little stylistic relevance to the artistic identity of the late Stanley Holden, a much-loved local ballet teacher and, before that, a memorable Royal Ballet character dancer. So, to pay tribute to Holden (who died in May), LADI #8 split into two parts: emotional speeches, rewarding video clips and problematic classical dancing in the Holden half and an exciting display of contemporary prowess in the other.

Along with video reminiscences by Holden's friends and colleagues, the remarks by LADI executive producer Howard Ibach, Inland Pacific Ballet artistic director Victoria Koenig and pianist-composer Michael Roberts conveyed a sense of Holden's warmth, generosity and dedication. But his talents loomed largest in vintage ballet films of "Coppélia," "Enigma Variations" and "La Fille Mal Gardée." Irreplaceable in body and spirit, that man.

Completing the tribute: a display of official proclamations by government officials and short, heartfelt, under-rehearsed ballet pieces by Melissa Allen Bowman (music by Roberts) and Kim Maselli (Pacific Festival Ballet).

It's unlikely that, as a teacher or choreographer, Holden ever asked a man to stand on a woman's back -- but that action occurred in more than one piece Saturday as daring guest choreographers explored new skills and expressive goals.

In Patrick David Bradley's familiar romp "Ruckus" for San Pedro City Ballet, the guys tried partnering one another but soon decided that women were more fun -- even if it meant putting them on pedestals. But Adam Parson found lots of fun ways for men to dance together in his new quintet "Kecak" for Commonality Dance Company, matching the percussive intricacies of Balinese chant with wild eruptions of twitchy, eccentric physical comedy.

Kate Hutter found other ways in her inventive male character duet for the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, "A Personalized Approach to Life by the Founders of Insecurity and Ego." Depicting the contrasting energies of the title, Carlos Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson initially danced in isolation but soon collided with the force of a freeway smashup.

Female power dominated two brand-new duets that also began in isolation. Maria LaMance pulled Attila Joey Csiki out of mournful paralysis in Anandha Ray's work in progress, "The Presence of Absence," for Moving Arts Dance, comforting and lifting him through a complex amalgam of ballet and modern dance technique.

Sarah Moser performed a similar function in Jacob "Kujo" Lyons' beautifully controlled gymnastic adagio "Serendipendence II" for Lux Aeterna, sharing some amazing contorted balances with him.

Ray needs a score as unified as her choreography, Lyons more development in the side-by-side dancing that ends his piece. But both brilliantly translated women's spiritual strengths into unusual physical feats. Amy Ernst took those strengths in another direction in "Raft," placing Addie Hoobler and Denai Vogel on small, Lazy Susan-style platforms and setting the women gracefully spinning: serene, sculptural, on a different kind of pedestal than Bradley's "Ruckus" supplied.

After all this partnering innovation, the three classical couples in Nicole Haskins' conventional new "Souvenir" for Sacramento Ballet looked awfully backdated, forced sometimes in their attempts at grandeur but adroit in the deep, supported backbends that became a unifying motif in the piece. Kirsten Bloom and Jack Hansen danced the leads.


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