It was a weekend of firsts for San Diego State University dance students and faculty as "Showcase 90" presented the premiere of the school's University Dance Company and the opening of the renovated Studio Theatre.
A third first was the premiere of a highly theatrical work designed by famed San Francisco choreographer Joe Goode.
The most significant development for SDSU's degree-granting program in dance (inaugurated last fall) was the unveiling of the Studio Theatre, which underwent a two-year face lift. The remodeled space cannot compare to the university's main stage, but it represents a quantum leap in technical support over the original facility.
Lighting capabilities have increased about sevenfold. A computerized sound system improved the musical accompaniment, although there were a couple of glitches on opening night. And the new hardwood dance floor should be a boon to the performers.
The 20-member University Dance Company, skimmed from the degree program, was surprisingly adept and well-rehearsed. In fact, this ensemble could hold its own with most of the local groups that aspire to professional status.
The faculty and a couple of guest choreographers supplied the eager performers with quality choreography for the seven-piece program.
The most provocative and challenging piece was the finale, Goode's sardonic "Something About Doris," another segment in Goode's famed "Disaster Series."
"Something About Doris" (the title refers to Doris Day, Goode's metaphor for the American Dream) took pot shots at the idealism and naivete of youth. Consequently, it was well-served by the young dancers, even when the darker sides of the dance eluded their grasp.
Taxing lifts and sudden explosions of movement that seemed to come right out of the blue were juxtaposed with a comic solo by Coco Campbell (decked out in a wedding gown, but reciting her romantic lines with obvious disappointment). It was a devilishly difficult work, and the dancers threw themselves into it with gusto.
Another high-water mark for the evening was Carl Yamamoto's "Folia." With the music of Gregorio Paniagua driving them on, an ensemble of five deadpan dancers (dressed in white surgical scrubs and looking like fugitives from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") maneuvered through a litany of wacky movements.
Although "Folia" is only a work in progress, it abounds with quirky invention, and confirms Yamamoto's talent for off-the-wall imagery and complex motional forms. The dancing was tiptop as well.
Patricia Sandback, a leading local choreographer and member of the SDSU faculty, contributed two works: "Hallways," a solo for Lani Palladino, and "In Between Silence," a complex, unpredictable ensemble piece with angst on its mind.
Palladino was never out of control in her solo appearance, even when the dance changed directions with lightning speed. And she had enough amplitude of movement to sweep through the broad phrases of "Hallways" like a hot knife through butter.
George Willis, director of the dance program, has a cockeyed sense of humor that always surfaces in his dances. His latest work, aptly titled "Scratch," was Willis at his zaniest, as five dancers in ape masks and white dinner jackets engaged in an incongruous mix of animal moves. There was very little dance logic to this whimsical throw-away. But it was a bona fide rib tickler, complete with witty sight gags and wild kinetic horseplay.
Meredith Monk's music set the stage for "root," a gymnastic dance that included legwork with a ladder and floor-bound writhings by a pair of women constricted in their movements by form-fitting gowns.
Melissa Nunn reprised her recent Jazz Unlimited work "Summons," with guest dancer Stacy Scardino in the solo role. The rest of the cast consisted of students, and they acquitted themselves admirably. However, the overall impact of the piece was blunted by the bare-bones studio setting.
Some technical glitches in the new theater: The uncomfortable, makeshift seating has not been corrected, nor have the annoying light spills from the studio windows. Why didn't somebody think about installing dark curtains during the remodeling?
The seating capacity has been somewhat increased, but there were still squatters sprawling all over the floor--some even spilling over into the aisles (and blocking the exit) during Friday night's jampacked performance.