Inhaling a hot, gritty jazz score as if taking in pure oxygen, members of the New York-based Limon Dance Company responded with fervor Saturday at Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Theatre. The occasion was the late Anna Sokolow's "Rooms," one of two works on a bill completed by a Clay Taliaferro world premiere, "Into My Heart's House."
It was Sokolow's 55-minute study of angst and alienation that perfectly captured the somber, unsettling tenor of today. That it was choreographed in 1955 to a scorching original score by Kenyon Hopkins makes this revival more potent.
Reconstructed and staged by Sokolow disciple and former Limon dancer Jim May, "Rooms" is that rare work that is both of its time and a template for the future. Anarchy ruled in the dissonant musical fabric, deliriously rendered onstage by members of the Luckman Jazz Orchestra conducted by Charles Owens, as the dancers squeezed every drop of emotion from a vocabulary embracing floor-rolling, beatnik-like finger-snapping and hip-swiveling.
The work, bookended by eight dancers seated on and moving around chairs, soared in awesomely executed solos. A mournful sax punctuated "A Dream," showcasing Raphael Boumaila, who careened from cartwheels to floor-crashing.
Roxane D'Orleans Juste equally repelled pain and welcomed joy with intense arm gestures in "Escape," and Francisco Ruvalcaba provided "Going" with a portrait of cool, his spiky air-jabs and restless toe-tapping irresistible. Daniel Fetecua Soto's furious hops and spins illuminated "Panic," and Ruping Wang's agony was palpable, her crumbling body a devastating portrait in "The End."
A group scene, "Desire," likewise fostered isolation. The dancers' writhings were less about a sensual communion than struggle -- to find love, fit in or, finally, snatch bits of happiness in an unforgiving world.
Unfortunately, meandering characterized the abstract "Into My Heart's House," a commission celebrating the 100th anniversary of Jose Limon's birth.
Throwing cohesion to the winds, Taliaferro, also an erstwhile Limon dancer, made good use of the performers' gifts -- for effortless leaping, maintaining difficult balances and tossing off boisterous turns.
But the 25-minute work, set to a musical pastiche that included Bach and a crop of MySpace composers, suffered from awkward transitions and lack of purpose.
Buffeted about like pinballs in an arcade machine on permanent tilt, the dancers needed a reason for their movements -- a mandate that both Sokolow and Limon understood (the two were contemporaries) but that Taliaferro seemingly forsook here for appearances' sake.
Limon Dance Company
Where: New Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. ("Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias," "The Moor's Pavane")
When: 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (213) 489-0994