Oakland Ballet, known for its meticulous, vital reconstructions of 20th-Century dance classics, brought a brilliant revival of Charles Weidman's 1936 "Lynchtown" to UC Irvine on Thursday. But the rest of the program in the Fine Arts Village Theatre consisted of undistinguished pieces.
In "Lynchtown," a drama of crowd reactions to an offstage hanging, nine dancers showed precision and relentless drive in Weidman's astonishing, stylized, regimented and repetitive modern-dance vocabulary. These included stabbing, hunched-over jumps by the women and aggressive phalanxes by the men.
Set against Lehman Engel's sparse, percussive Western score, Weidman's enforcement of rigid conformity--the work is confined mostly to a diagonal across the stage--only made the febrile quiverings by individuals and the asynchronous collapse of the women all the more arresting. Thus the moment when the men dragged the body on stage was gut-wrenching.
In contrast, Betsy Erickson's "At a Time When . . . " (choreographed in 1984 to Hovhaness' alternately ponderous and airy "Mountains and Rivers Without End") tried with less success to pit matriarchal against patriarchal cultures. She used confrontations amid Douglas Heine's rock sculptures, which were rearranged endlessly to signal significant developments.
But the outcome was never in doubt: Matriarchy triumphed, and one woman was left behind to begin the cycle anew. Unfortunately, Erickson was unable to find movements that could carry the weight of these ideas; her work sank under its didacticism.
Throughout much of the evening, the level of dancing proved disappointing, except for that by the remarkable, willowy Erin Leedom and the statuesque, commanding Joy Gim. All accompaniment was taped.
Completing the program were Marc Wilde's "Bolero" and company artistic director Ronn Guidi's "Trois Gymnopedies" and selections from "The Seasons" (after Raoul Pause); all have been previously reviewed.