Times Dance Writer

Six years ago, the showcase series called “Dance Kaleidoscope” came into existence as an affirmative action project for the Los Angeles dance community: a format for producing local companies on a scale usually reserved for touring ensembles. Quality proved less the raison d’etre than public access, with many different dance idioms, and artists of highly dissimilar levels of achievement, packed into unwieldy sampler programs.

Since then, similar portmanteau series of that time (including the Music Center “Rug Concerts” and the Garden Theatre Festival) have been replaced by attempts to offer a more coherent perspective (the recent “Visions” and “10 L.A. Choreographers” series, for instance). Yet the current (seventh annual) “Kaleidocope” still shovels virtually anything that moves onto the stage of the John Anson Ford Theatre.

However, this year most of the choreographers who had provided the highlights of past “Kaleidoscope” programs have left for the more unified and prestigious “Dance Park” events in July. What remains seems paltry indeed.

Certainly, from the “Festival of Premieres” Friday, you’d never guess that Southern California boasts innovative choreographers and first-class dancing. Most of the seven tidbits came into the world already terminally stale and received only ragged execution.


The first and deadliest, Mary Sue Vanderbur’s quintet “The Awakening” repackaged faceless jazz-aerobics, with Vanderbur herself lurching through the central role with little skill and less shame. The last, and blandest, Martha Kalman’s sextet “Common Ground” fielded some of the same dancers and movement ideas (circular formations, spinning) to the same vacantly celebratory purpose.

In between came several examples of arrested development. The societal-family portrait “Dinner With the Jones” demonstrated Sandra Christensen’s inability to grow beyond her early, messy, promising forays into operatic performance art. “The Cocktail Party,” a solo about agonized individuality versus empty conformity, revealed David Leahy’s inability to break free from the style he absorbed while a member of Rudy Perez’s company.

Although Ferne Ackerman’s septet “Biko” for Big Flood scarcely began to tap the power of its subject, the alternation of big, group-keening passages and intricate gestural motifs did provide some of the most compelling movement of the evening. Yen Lu Wong’s inconclusive “Shime” excerpt for TNR/Moebius ended in intense, intimate Expressionist ritual but was dominated by its spectacular opening procession: a dozen figures carrying gauzed flashlights down the walkways and staircases above the Ford stage.

Jean Isaacs’ jokey quintet “Chopin Pieces” for Three’s Company set everything from hitchhiker gestures to tag-team jogging against music familiar from such ballets as “Les Sylphides” and “Other Dances.” Issacs has been quoted as saying, “We shouldn’t be afraid to use some of the greatest music around in a non-traditional, verging on irreverent, way.” True enough. Nor should we be afraid to find the result mindless junk.