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DANCE REVIEW : 4th ‘In the Works’ Series Offers Gloria Newman and Contraband

TIMES DANCE WRITER

Gloria Newman of Orange County and Sara Shelton Mann of the Bay Area each make sprawling group dances that intuitively mix personal testimony, social comment, confrontational dramatics and sheer display. On Sunday, they shared the fourth program of the Dance Gallery’s “In the Works” series at the old Helms Bakery Building in Culver City.

In style, Shelton Mann’s Contraband company and the Newman Dance Theatre reflect the different art-making priorities of their regions. For instance, Contraband defines itself with a rough, improvisational edge and a florid Third World look--though nearly everyone is white. In contrast, half of Newman’s dancers are multicultural, but everyone adopts a squeaky-clean, quasi-Yup look and clearly aims for the polish of professional modern dance.

Newman called her evolving “Time/Frames/Window/Stills” an exploration of “how to use magazine format in dance.” And, indeed, it continually exploited juxtaposition and contrast, both within individual passages and as it shifted from formal, overlapping solos and duets to intimate, intense sequences involving chairs--and then shifted again into a surging unison finale. There was even a solo deconstructing and reconceiving the Vogue to give it maximum muscularity: new turf for Newman.

With its communal music-making and other self-reflexive rituals, Contraband clearly seemed a tribal unit facing inward. Thus Shelton Mann’s preachy but curiously out-of-touch “Mira, Cycle I: Excerpts” grew strongest whenever the cast interacted at a high level of engagement. Certainly the engulfing physicality and shared risk of contact improvisation proved Contraband’s glory--and the only moments when “Mira” truly embodied Shelton Mann’s concept of a “study of essence in touch with issues of personality.”

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