DANCE REVIEW : At UCLA, Dean Company Spins and Spins and . . .

Times Music/Dance Critic

Laura Dean, whose trendy company of 11 energetic dancers and four tireless musicians opened a two-night spin at Royce Hall on Friday, regards simple repetition as “a very deep and very profound part of our humanity.”

She said so on these very pages last week. We believe her.

“Repetition,” she added, “really frees the mind.” We’re not so sure.

One mind’s freedom may be another’s straitjacket. One viewer’s mesmerized involvement may be another’s unadulterated ennui .

It may be worth noting that the usually receptive audience at UCLA increased in restlessness as the evening wore on. It also decreased in size.


Whether or not one happens to admire the minimalist mentality that defines--one doesn’t want to say limits --Dean’s repertory of motions and sounds isn’t the point here. Dean is an original.

As a choreographer, she has dared to reinvent the dizzy and dizzying art of moving in private circles. She has deprettified modern dance, reverted to ritual, searched for purity of gesture and clarity of structure without sanctioning ego indulgence or surface frill.

The problem, for some, involves the frugality and the fragility of it all. One has to look awfully hard for an awfully long time to discover whether all of Dean’s dances are variations on the same simplistic theme. And even when one thinks the profound answer is at hand, or at foot, one isn’t quite sure.

In recent years, Dean has broadened her creative horizon by working with bona fide ballet companies. As a result she has incorporated a few classical maneuvers into the abstract body language of her home team.

She began long ago with the exploration of certain trademarks: flat-footed turns, endless whirls, unison hops, insistent stomps, jazzy syncopations, Asian arm signals and cool, geometric patterns. To these, she has slowly added a few formal flourishes.

Enter the arabesque, the grand jete and, perhaps most significant, the relatively elaborate lift. Her ensemble of anonymous but self-absorbed individuals has discovered the sexist joys of partnering.

Dean fuses the basic elements of her old and new worlds with slick bravado. But, ever cerebral in concept and mechanical in execution, her pieces steadfastly resist development and avoid focus.

This choreographer works--and walks--away from anything so vulgar and old-fashioned as a climax. Her pieces don’t tend to end. They just stop.

In “Magnetic” (1986), the color scheme is shiny blue for the dancers and glowing red for the cyclorama. The hectic protagonists are an oddly matched group of seven. Their fundamental linear duties are echoed in a non-contrasting middle section by three nominal soloists. The organic accompaniment, written by Dean herself, consists of rhythmic thumps blasted on electronic keyboards.

In “Memory,” a premiere commissioned by UCLA and UC Berkeley, the 11 participants model modified tank-tops and cut-off tights, all black. The tone here is more quixotic, the composition more episodic, the accent a bit more balletic. As such, the choreography accommodates the rambling cliches of Egberto Gismonti’s generic score.

In “Equator” (1988), the dancers don crimson pajamas that billow nicely in rapid revolution and shoes that tap-tap-tap the stage with militaristic passion. The peak of ecstasy involves an act of unwinding: a communal plie. Dean’s music remains strictly, supportively percussive, also relentlessly loud.

Everything about this one-note performance, in fact, is relentlessly loud. That--in the long run, the long skip, the long quiver and, yes, the long spin--must stimulate some people more than others.