DANCE REVIEW : Three's Company, at Sushi for Openers

Three's Company kicked off its 1989-'90 season with five local premieres, live music, a new venue and a cameo appearance by artistic director Jean Isaacs.

The chamber-sized concert was not a high point for the company, but it marked a welcome return to a local stage for San Diego's favorite modern dance troupe. Three's Company offers plenty to be thankful for--even when the group is not operating in high gear.

Sushi's second-story loft space, on the other hand, never looked so good for a dance concert before. Three's Company added a black backdrop to the white-box ambience and eliminated those annoying light spills that plague concerts in this no-frills venue.

A dark dance floor and legs that hid the lighting instruments from the audience also enhanced the environment. With those improvements, Sushi proved an effective and intimate performing space for the troupe, although its limited seating Friday night left many dance buffs out in the cold and others sitting on the floor.

Three's Company's prolific resident choreographers--Isaacs, and her associate director, Nancy McCaleb--created all but one of the seven pieces on the program. That decidedly oddball addition was a dead-pan duet for trombonist and mime conceived by Pulitzer Prize-winning-composer Bernard Rands.

Rands' "Memo 26 for Trombone and Mime" made an outrageous curtain-raiser and set up an evening of surprises. It was no musical milestone, and Rands' "choreography" amounted to little more than a series of poses, but it made a zany showcase for the artists. And it was vividly theatrical.

The uncredited costumer decked Miles Anderson out in tattered raincoat and rumpled hat so that he looked like one of the street people who crouch in the doorways below the studio. Isaacs was all in black, in sharp contrast to the traditional white-faced mimes.

The dancer never attempted to mime the musical cues that spurted at a furious pace from Anderson's trombone. Instead, the interaction was more like a conversation as Anderson spewed his cacophonous sounds in desperate bursts before the spotlight turned to Isaacs.

Then it was Isaacs' turn to respond to the fitful score. The sly give and take continued throughout. However, it was really Anderson's show until the denouement. Flaunting pizazz, he sputtered, grunted and screeched feverishly with the trombone, coaxing every dissonant sound the instrument can make.

McCaleb's "Aelia Laelia Crispis," a local premiere, was the most rewarding dance work of the evening. It was originally commissioned by the dance department of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to a strong score by the university's composer-in-residence, Beth Mahocic. "Aelia" proved a most inventive duet, based on a medieval riddle about the mysteries of the great He-She.

The medieval feeling reflected in the score was echoed in the marvelous gray costumes by Anupo. McCaleb discovered a stunning contemporary vocabulary for the movement--full of androgynous lifts and exciting couplings. The piece was nicely danced by Terri Shipman and Kim Chidley, except for a few rough spots.

McCaleb made only one appearance as a dancer last weekend, but her emotion-packed performance was extremely moving. Dancing her own "Sister of the Plague" (a solo she created last summer for another local dancer), McCaleb seemed possessed as she responded in twitchy spasms and frenzied gestures to the dark urgencies of the score.

"Sister" is strong stuff, including the music (which the versatile McCaleb designed herself), and it was well worth another look.

"No Shade," McCaleb's big premiere, had some powerful images and an important warning, but it didn't quite gel on opening night. It was the choreographer's reaction to the dangerous thinning of the world's ozone layer. Unfortunately, it filled the stage with Styrofoam cups--which made it look more like a contributing factor to environmental deterioration than a protest against it.

This was more of a performance art piece than a dance work. However, when it did start to move, the dancing sustained an intensity equal to the subject. The quintet spun violently out of control, then struggled vainly for survival in their hostile environment. At that point, "No Shade" showed us the rich potential McCaleb has for creating kinetic havoc. Anderson thumped a cactus and squeezed a plastic bottle to generate music. Sharp played the five-string electric violin.

David Thayer's parched lighting designs were a big plus for the piece, and there were several striking icons scattered throughout the work, but "No Shade" could do with some polishing.

"No Subject/No Object," Isaacs' answer to J. S. Bach's suite for unaccompanied cello, had its beautiful moments--particularly in the dreamy duet section for Denise Dabrowski and Brian Cluggish. But it fell a bit short of its goal (to erase the boundaries between self and dreams).

Dabrowski, one of the most accomplished dancers in town these days, had her best exposure of the evening when she teamed up with Cluggish. And she took it to the limits, even though her partner's moves were awkward. Isaacs' choreography played upon the physical differences between delicate Dabrowski and her lumbering partner to make this twosome soar, and it worked well enough.

Isaacs' new trio, "Three Girls at the Ball," had a giddy sense of humor, but not enough to keep the ball rolling. The whimsy was at its best in the angular robotics of Terry Wilson. When the three girls got together in their funky beachwear, the comedy (and the dancing) seemed flat.

Terri Shipman's interpretation of McCaleb's "Illuminata," was the oldest dance (1985) on the program, but it is still going strong. Anderson and Sharp supplied the delightful accompaniment.

Three's Company will start rehearsing, with a record number of salaried dancers on the payroll, early in December, but the troupe will not perform again in San Diego until March.

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