Dancers need professional training grounds to help them hone their skills, and choreographers need malleable bodies on which to experiment. For the past 15 years, Three's Company's summer workshops have been dedicated to satisfying that dual objective--and to keeping the art of modern dance alive in San Diego.
These annual study programs (designed for dancers of varying levels of ability), always culminate with a concert that showcases the participants in dance works generated by the faculty during the intensive, monthlong sessions.
Last weekend, Three's Company closed the curtain on its Lo-Tec summer series, featuring more than 40 performers from this year's workshop and introducing new works by local choreographers Kelley Grant, James Kelly, Jean Isaacs, Patrick Nollet and Terri Shipman. It also marked the debut of a new a ensemble dance by Texas-based Woodie McGriff (the previous weekend's Lo-Tec soloist).
Although only a handful of workshop students have attained professional status, this crop of dancers was more accomplished than the usual mix, and the choreography was generally more complex.
The weakest work--in terms of managing a mismatched group--was the curtain-raiser, Shipman's "In the Cloud's Shadow." It packed the performing area with a phalanx of at least 16 dancers who never quite melded into a unified ensemble.
The dancing improved when Kelly's choreography, "Tied Up," burst into high gear. This hard-edged jazz romp was blessed with some of the more accomplished dancers in the group, and they were dressed in brazen black and red dance togs for maximum impact.
Patrick Nollet, one of the founding members of Three's Company, has kept a low profile for the past few years. In all that time, he has not produced a single dance work, although he occasionally choreographs for the musical theater. Consequently, his contribution to this workshop concert, "The Dead Hour," was all the more welcome.
Don't let the somber title fool you. "The Dead Hour" had nothing serious on its mind, despite the ominous piano poundings that ushered in the dance. It was strictly comic capers for seven dancers in clashing shorts sets and silly hats.
They were not fleet-footed and loose-limbed enough to really do justice to the zany dance, but the free-wheeling clown routines were delightful to watch just the same. Not surprisingly, the merry period piece was a rousing crowd pleaser.
Grant's jazzy "No Pay, No Play," was another favorite with the audience. It dispersed the large ensemble in small clusters at first, then combined them into a driving force for the splashy finale. The studio's primitive lighting resources were put to good use in this piece, simulating the flashy effects of strobe lights.
Isaacs' "Tabula Rasa," a critically acclaimed quintet, was the only revival on the program, and even that was modified for the workshop students.
This dark and strikingly powerful work was not as compelling as it is when performed by Three's Company dancers. The fledglings lacked the dramatic presence and technical mastery for its intricate maneuvers. But it still offered some of the most rewarding moments of the evening.
"Laudate Pueri," McGriff's first attempt at a major ensemble work, was a success by any measure, and it sent the overflow audience home on a high note. In this piece, a huge throng of dancers, dramatically costumed in black unitards festooned with bands of brilliant yellow, crowded the stage for a beautiful visualization of the music.
At one point, Shipman took center stage for a brief solo, but, throughout the dance, McGriff proved he can handle the logistics of large-scale dance with amazing clarity and style.