Mugging their way through a lightweight, largely familiar four-part program at Los Angeles Theatre Center on Sunday, the 10 hard-working dancers of Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Theatre seemed equally unprepared for credible character projection (required by Lula Washington's "Blues Portraits") and for flashy technical display.
Washington's jazz-modern choreography continually exposed their technical limitations--especially with frequent slow turns into extension that virtually nobody could execute steadily. And even when reenacting something close to their own experience--in Washington's "Cross the Line"--they brought no emotional conviction to their performances, merely a relentlessly bright, callow vigor.
Indeed, the company looked like a unified ensemble only at the end of the evening in Jho Jenkins' "Wauyacanjanga Suite," which adroitly exploited social dance idioms and a strong communal pulse. And here an audience that had previously ventured only polite applause at last found a pretext for enthusiasm.
Curious, since Washington's new "Sample Suite" seemed almost desperate to sell out--and for small change, at that. Set to bouncy music by Joe Sample, it began with one of those cutesie ballet-versus-street-dance challenge duets familiar from Dance Theatre of Harlem's "Forces of Rhythm," Alvin Ailey's "Pas de Duke" and the recent movie "White Nights."
But, since Kennifer A. Morris looked terminally stiff, effortful and smug in his very rudimentary classical combinations, there was no contest: Jason Jones far too easily strutted away with a piece that had no interest except as an obvious style playoff.
Other sections capitalized on prancing horseplay and jokey mime--all oversold and underdanced. Of course, Washington's own solo revealed a more imposing level of technical security--but even she lacked the charismatic presence or expressive power to bring off the collage of expectant, undeveloped gestural motifs (mostly upward reaches and outstretched finger-shimmers) that she assigned herself.