There is much to celebrate about REDCAT's annual New Original Works Festival, which opened its three-week, three-program run Thursday. To begin with, there is a fair amount of assurance by now that, after five years, the festival's selections, chosen out of a pool of more than 100 applicants, will more than reward one's sense of adventure.
And, as the first program amply demonstrates, the work may be fresh out of the box but the phrase "under construction" is hardly apt.
Certainly, Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project's "Sira Kan/On the Road" will benefit from future pruning of a messy middle section, but the piece has "good bones" -- a strong premise and structure, studded with provocative images. Choreographed and performed by the Los Angeles-Burkina Faso troupe's Olivier Tarpaga and Wilfried Souly, with additional direction by Esther Baker-Tarpaga and the participation of performer and guitarist Ibrahim Boro, "Sira Kan" tackles the illegal migration of African men with a mixture of delicacy and force that provides a rare view of a tough but topical subject.
Through charged partnering and movement sections that draw equally from a West African dance vocabulary and contact improvisation-inflected modern dance, Tarpaga, Souly and Boro trace a path from homeland to portside arrest via the purgatory of a boat journey riddled with hope and despair.
The piece's most memorable moments, however, are its most quiet: gemlike images that express the psychic as well as physical distance of migration, as in a chorus of slow, repetitive wiping of sand from the soles of feet, accompanied only by the susurration of lapping waves.
The collaborative troupe Cloud Eye Control (Miwa Matreyek, Anna Oxygen and Chi-wang Yang) offers whimsical amalgamations of projected animation and live action that similarly travel across distances -- deep into the Earth and the heart of the dulcet-voiced Oxygen in "Subterranean Heart" and into the far reaches of the galaxy and her dreams in "Final Space."
Marred only by a youthful earnestness that stitches together the fate of the environment and self-realization, these science-fantasy mini operettas are at their most inventive when miniaturizing or multiplying bodies as they jump from live presences to cinematic ones.
Concluding the evening with a bang -- and a snarl and arched eyebrow -- "Model Behavior, i.e., the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" demonstrates why Theatre Movement Bazaar is heralded as a gold standard in the peculiar genre of wry literary remakes. Here, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic is treated less as a morality tale than as a treatise on modes of social conduct and proper class and gender behavior, circa the Victorian era.
Though missing the troupe's frequent use of cinematic projections and only half its intended length, the piece, led by Jacob Sidney as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, nevertheless capitalizes on Richard Alger's pithy, swift banter and the deft direction and choreography of Tina Kronis, who puts the members of the ensemble in almost contin- ual orbit around one an- other.
Chorus numbers on period manners and mores, wince-worthy jokes and magic tricks are provided by a stellar cast.
New Original Works Festival 2008
Where: REDCAT, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.
When: 8:30 tonight
Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org