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Troupe in getting-acquainted mode

June 30, 2008|Sara Wolf | Special to The Times

At her best, choreographer Hae Kyung Lee can alter one's perception, transforming bone and muscle into a field of fluctuating vibration or flowing motion. Indeed, with her proclivity for combining the meditative with the highly athletic, perceptual flux is necessary for the work to cohere into something more than an amalgamation of opposing energies and elements.

Otherwise, Lee's dances can look overstuffed and, well, just plain awkward. Such was the case Saturday night at an untitled concert by Hae Kyung Lee and Dancers in Cal State L.A.'s State Playhouse.

Introducing a new troupe as well as a new work alongside two older pieces, Lee made a gamble that didn't pay off, with young, inexperienced dancers struggling with the basics of her choreography when so much depends on how it is performed.

In the premiere, "Divination," no wellspring of wisdom could be found, although one might surmise from Laura Frecon's brazen silver costumes and Christopher Kuhl's resplendent rainbow-hued lighting design that the future looks bright to Lee. Here, Lee relied on a balletic movement vocabulary, rife with pique arabesques, to communicate joyous uplift. Yet the dance's continual upward surging made abrupt drops into shoulder stands difficult for the dancers and incomprehensible to the audience. Where was the rooted strength that is a signature of Lee's work?

Composer Robert Een's lyrical score for accordion, cello and percussion propelled the dance forward despite the effortful, leaden pacing of the dancers.

The capacity to infuse meaning into motion could be found in "Blank Slate," however, thanks to Kishisa Ross, the remaining old-timer of the group. In stark contrast to "Divination," this 1998 work isolated pairs of dancers -- Ross and Melissa Manzo; Yvette Alawerdjian and Eric Perez; Edgar Miramontes and Tommy Lee -- in dramatic pools of light, intimate islands in a sea of darkness that engulfed the stage.

Accompanied by longtime Lee collaborator Steve Moshier's equally dark, bellowing electronic score, the duets sifted through an array of sculptural poses and a few impressively risky partnering combinations, seen first in a series of brief flashes, then in extended sequences that contrasted Ross and Manzo's liquid extensions with Miramontes and Lee's frenetic thrashing.

The program concluded with 1999's "Confrontation," featuring the ensemble in black trench coats tripping and stumbling in increasingly gymnastic passes across the stage. Whether all this was meant in homage to film noir or slapstick comedy was uncertain, though Moshier's ominous score seemed to indicate the former.

The determination with which Hae Kyung Lee's new ensemble performed bodes well for the future. They have the heart -- now they need to find the soul of her dances.

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