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DANCE REVIEW : No Looking Back for 3’s Company on Anniversary

LA JOLLA-Modern dance companies often wax nostalgic when they celebrate major anniversaries, commemorating the occasions with retrospectives of their work. Not so with Three’s Company and Dancers.

The San Diego-based modern dance troupe didn’t look back Thursday as it plunged ahead with its 15th anniversary concert at the Mandell Weiss Center for the Performing Arts. The troupe introduced three modern dance-works by company choreographers and revamped two others picked from last year’s crop.

At the expense of an evolutionary perspective on the company--if that’s possible with so many different choreographers contributing to the repertory--the program reflected current politics within the organization, with Jean Isaacs and Nancy McCaleb playing leading roles. Between them, they created four of the five works on the program including the two major premieres. Unfortunately, neither of the anniversary premieres reflected the personal best of these prolific dance-makers.

Isaacs’ “Wall,” an angst -filled ensemble work that focused on physical and metaphysical barriers, stripped the stage of its backdrop and spread across the stark rear wall of the theater in a bold use of space. But the brooding choreographic patterns were awkward and chaotic, and the large ensemble seemed weighed down by its dark motifs and heavy emotional content.

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The 70-voice San Diego Men’s Chorus added splendid accompaniment from the opposite side of the footlights. However, their formidable presence in a chain around the auditorium forced people to divide their attention. And the music seemed at odds with the motion on stage.

“Bunga Pakma” marshals some of the zany movement cycles that have so profoundly affected the Three’s Company oeuvre in recent years, and continues McCaleb’s series of collaborations with sculptor Andrea Bjeldanes. Once again, Bjeldanes has delivered a visually engaging, surrealist environment of giant neon hands, massive elephants and striking animal masks.

Symbolism and post-modern whimsy are McCaleb’s stock and trade, but she missed the boat when she took on the serious subject of the Cambodian atrocities. The piece culminated with no recognizable climax, just the quintet of dancers squatting quietly in the dark. It left the audience totally bewildered.

Don’t blame composer Miles Anderson for any of “Bunga’s” shortcomings. He did his best work to date on the cacophonous sonic effects, making the relentless score both mesmerizing and chillingly disturbing. And the five-woman ensemble danced blithely throughout.

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Although her status as co-artistic director has been downgraded to co-founder-choreographer now, Betzi Roe made her artistic presence known with “First Snow.” With musical inspiration from Will Parsons, and two macho men to partner Roe in the movement, the new trio was an effective if not unforgettable tour de force.

Patrick Nollet, who along with Isaacs and Roe composed the original threesome, danced in two numbers. But, although his dance designs were a fixture on Three’s Company concerts in years past, Nollet’s choreographic legacy was conspicuously absent from this concert. More’s the pity, since he created some excellent repertory work for the troupe.

Three recent additions to the Three’s Company family have evened out the male-female balance (there were six of each on the program, a far cry from typical rosters in which women outnumber the men by a mile).

Isaacs’ “Untitled Duet,” a little duo danced by Faith Jensen-Ismay and Terri Shipman, made its local debut almost as a throw-away on a low-tech concert last summer. It deserves more--and gets it--on this program.

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This study of conflict and resolution is an artful arrangement of parallel shapes and contrasting forms, and its new score by Michael S. Roth adds just the right dramatic touch to the dance. Jensen-Ismay and Shipman have made great strides with Three’s Company lately, and they look better than ever in this inventive dance.

No wonder San Francisco’s Theatre Artaud tagged this twosome for its April Dance Festival this year. It’s a must-see for lovers of modern movement.

“Swamp” (1988) has shown up on at least two separate Three’s Company programs lately, but the company dredged it up again for its anniversary concert. Instead of wilting from overexposure, it turned out to be the strongest ensemble piece on the program.

Three’s Company will dance its last two performances tonight and Sunday at 8 p.m.

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