DANCE REVIEW : Roe Throws Caution to the Wind in Solo Sampler

After a two-year hiatus from dancing on her home turf, Betzi Roe returned to the local limelight at Three's Company's Hillcrest studio this weekend, proving she is still a force to be reckoned with in modern dance.

Roe has not been idle the past couple of years, as she revealed in a six-piece sampler that was part of the Lo-Tec concert series. The veteran dance maker and co-founder of Three's Company has become a keeper of the flame for contemporary choreographers, principally women who hail from her home state of California.

Roe's performance reflected that commitment to showcase her kindred spirits, but the concert took a broader perspective as well, with the premiere of two works created especially for her by men (Lonne Moretton of New York and Bill Conrow, a recent transplant from Oklahoma).

Roe threw caution to the winds and went solo for this concert, carrying an eclectic program that stretched her stamina and technique to the limit. With her sinewy body finely tuned for the performance, she rose to the occasion.

Only during the slow and deliberate balances excerpted from "Diva" (the final work on the program), did the challenge of dancing solo--with several costume changes and no intermission--begin to take its toll.

Roe created the curtain-raiser, dubbed "The First," as a companion piece to Stephanie Gilliland's "Lock Stock and Teardrops." Its hard-rock music and jazzy isolations were not typical of Roe's style; neither were the jazz shoes and swaggering postures borrowed from street dancing. But Roe negotiated both contemporary pieces with technical assurance and an "I don't care" air of confidence.

"Signing In, Exit Signs, Signs of Life," by Nikolais Dance Theater alumni Suzee Goldman, was nearer to the realm of performance art than modern dance with its vivid theatricality, at least in its opening section.

With her face masked in plastic, and a noisy schoolyard sound track to usher in the dancing, Roe did an inventive duet with a school desk. Twitchy, robotic-style moves gave the movement an exciting sense of the surreal.

She then switched gears and went into a tailspin of nonstop, Rambo-style moves. By this time, Roe had made a complete costume change, from schoolgirl jumper to army camouflage, to evoke a rebellious passage.

The mood shifted again for the final portion. In contrast to the early movements of the dance, the third segment was strangely angular and athletic. Roe never assumed the upright position in this eerie romp, instead "dancing" most of it from a quirky, four-legged position.

The three distinct fragments of the dance were too disjointed to convey its full meaning about the stages of a woman's life, and the title too cryptic to offer much of a clue. But, even in its disconnected state, "Signs" was a powerful piece of theater dance.

The closest thing to a comic work on the program was Moretton's "Pretend," a tongue-in-cheek parody of the innocent '50s. Taking the naive and saccharine lyrics from Nat King Cole's songs literally, "Pretend" had Roe retreating from a grim reality through empty-headed smiles and kinetic confrontations with an overstuffed chair. "Pretend's" humor was subtle, but Roe's gestures and expressions never failed to register the effect.

Conrow's "Passage" was the softest and most lyrical work on the program, and its wispy moves were made to order for Roe. She whirled through its circular sweeps at breakneck speed, and matched the motional qualities of her torso with expressive port de bras .

The piece, danced in flowing chiffon, culminated in a wonderful swirl of graceful movement, and earned the dancer a warm response from the audience Saturday night.

The finale, "First Steps in the Shape of a Song" by Susan Rose, consisted of a pair of excerpts from a work-in-progress. "Diva," danced to an operatic score, showed off Roe's willowy form in a nude-like body stocking. But the dancer was shaky in executing its one-legged balances, and not fluid enough in its stretchy moves. Perhaps she would have done well to dance this taxing work earlier in the program, when her energy level was higher.

Roe fared much better when she donned jeans and jazz shoes for the second excerpt. Egged on by a pounding rock score, Roe turned on the juice and ended the concert with a strong burst of brazen movement.

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