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Music and Dance Reviews : Gloria Newman Troupe in Santa Monica

For more than a quarter century, Orange County’s Gloria Newman has been an important force in modern dance in the Southland.

But in what has become a distressing trend, Newman has had to take her troupe--the Gloria Newman Dance Theater--out of the county to make one of its comparatively infrequent appearances.

Over the weekend, the company ventured to Santa Monica College to dance Newman’s “Cantata II.”

Because it was presented essentially as a work in progress, any description and judgment about “Cantata II,” seen Friday, must be considered tentative.

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There could be little question, however, about the technical strength and accomplishments of the nine dancers.

Cantilevered balances and X-beam extensions could be rock-steady. The dancers breezed through punishing footwork, executed isolations with power and attacked movements with vigor.

While almost everyone had virtuosic opportunities, Karol Lee finished the last of three sections in a blaze of particularly striking balances and turns.

As in “Cantata, Part I” (created in 1987), Newman’s dancers recounted incidents from their lives at the same time they were executing these difficult maneuvers.

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Karen J. Woo told about her Chinese mother working in a tortilla factory and feeling that she herself was “half Mexican.”

Puerto Rican Victor Robles recalled his mother refusing to learn to speak English and asking her children to read her her letters.

The reminiscences tended to emphasize death, disease, divorce. Yet these important, personal subjects were recounted in the same affectless tone as were memories of pets and high school nicknames.

To be sure, dancers are not actors, or at least these dancers, for all their fine movement qualities, are not actors. But even though they derived the stories mostly from their own autobiographies (there have been, apparently, some changes in personnel), they failed to project emotional connection.

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At this stage of its development, then, “Cantata II” presented an unsatisfying profile--a highly personal work that failed to make a personal impact.


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