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NO FRILLS, LOTS OF THRILLS : ‘LO-TECH’ DANCE BY THREE’S COMPANY

Low-budget no-frills concerts, held in the bare-bones environment of Three’s Company’s studio, have been the mainstay of the local modern dance community for years.

This summer, the city’s leading modern dance troupe is again sponsoring the popular “Summer Lo-Tech Series” at its Hillcrest studio. The performances will be every Saturday and Sunday evening through mid-September, starting today. But as director Jean Isaacs said, “When we say low-tech, we’re talking in terms of technical support (lighting, sound, etc.). It does not refer to the quality of the concerts. And every year the series gets stronger. This year, we have 14 weekends of performances, and many of the artists are well-known around the country.”

Isaacs’ idea to showcase modern dance in a studio setting dates to the days when Three’s Company was still entrenched in its 3rd Avenue studio and only four groups of local dancers were good enough to be included.

“We have always felt that unless we created an environment for modern dance, it wouldn’t thrive here,” said Isaacs. “When we first started producing concerts in the studio, nobody else was interested in sponsoring local dancers.

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“Now there are many established San Diego dancers with excellent credits who still can’t get a booking in California. There’s a snobbishness about what local artists are doing. Other presenters don’t present local dancers. Even Bill DeYoung (a nationally known dancer and choreographer) can’t get booked here, and he wants to dance in his hometown. That’s why these low-tech concerts are so important.”

Not all the artists appearing on this summer series are San Diego-based, and a few will be unfamiliar to local aficionados. Doreen Amelia, slated to initiate the series this weekend, is a recent transplant from Vermont who has never performed in her adopted home. During her San Diego debut, she will introduce “Fragmented Justice,” a full-length theater dance that focuses on weaknesses and inequities in the justice system.

“My work is not really message-oriented,” Amelia said in an interview at the studio, “but it’s emotionally and sociopolitically based. It’s a matter of working through my experiences and letting the dancers respond in an improvisational way. Then I shape (the dance). But three of the five sections of ‘Fragmented Justice’ are at least partially spontaneous.

“The dancers will be involved in a board game. I’ll be giving them directions but the movement will be their own.”

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Three’s Company will take its first foray into the world of mime with Jay Miller’s “Moving Experiences,” a collection of vignettes that extend the boundaries of classic mime with modern dance movements, poetry and spoken text. Miller’s Lo-Tech debut will be the weekend of June 21.

“Refractions” will team San Diego dancer Janine Schooley with Cheryl Grabowski, Christa Wellhausen and Terry Wilson for a potpourri of Schooley dance works on June 28 and 29.

Then Mitchell Rose, lauded by the New York Times as “the dance world Woody Allen,” will be Three’s Company’s featured dancer, along with Diane Epstein. This duo might never have considered a no-frills environment like Three’s Company’s studio, but San Diego was the city of choice because Epstein’s mother still resides in La Jolla. As a result, local audiences will get a chance to sample their wares on July 5 and 6.

Karen Goodman will go it alone in “Solo Performance” on July 12 and 13. Goodman’s tightly structured, emotion-charged works build on passion and endurance and this solo concert will test that endurance to the limit.

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Local jazz dancer Chris Aguilar broke away from Jazz Unlimited a while ago to start his own troupe--the Aguilar Dance Ensemble. This troupe will perform July 19 and 20.

Former Nikolais Dance Theater dancer Jan Justis will present “An Evening of Set and Improvisational Dances” of her own design on July 26 and 27.

A “San Diego Dance Exchange,” scheduled for Aug. 2 and 3, will break new ground for the Lo-Tech series and represents a first for San Diego. The performances will feature new works and works-in-progress. But the idea behind these concerts is to create a dialogue between the choreographers, dancers, local critics and the audience. This unique interchange of information could be an ongoing event at the summer Lo-Techs.

Three’s Company favorite Rich Burrows will return to San Diego with an evening of his own solos on Aug. 9 and 10. Several of Burrows’ pieces are part of the company’s standard repertory, but this concert will give local audiences a rare glimpse at Burrows the dancer in action.

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“Evolutionary Images” is the title of the Lo-Tech concert tagged for Aug. 16 and 17. Instead of a purely kinetic experience, however, this unusual collaborative concert will showcase an original harp and movement creation by harpist Melissa Morgan and dancer Julia Morgan (no relation).

DeYoung’s appearance on Aug. 23 and 24 will feature Marsha Pabalis as his partner in “Duet Concert.” It will be followed by Three’s Company’s 12th annual faculty-student workshop performance on Aug. 30-31. For die-hard Three’s Company fans, this workshop performance offers one of only two opportunities to see members of the troupe perform this summer.

The series continues into September with Debbie Brauer’s “An Evening of New and Used Works,” on the 6th and 7th, and Miles Anderson’s “Hot Tubs--the Opera,” the most offbeat offering of the season, on Sept. 13 and 14.

“Miles is our musician in residence,” said Isaacs, “and we work with him a lot. He’ll be previewing some of the work he’s taking on the road for a nine-week tour. And some of us (from Three’s Company) will be dancing, too.

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