The Pasadena-based Terri Lewis Dance Ensemble exists in a peculiar time warp. Whether choreographed by Lewis herself or associate director Anne Atwell-Zoll, the repertory for this 11-member chamber ballet aims for a contemporary edge but achieves it only in the choice of accompaniments.
The company’s five-part program on Saturday at Thorne Hall, Occidental College, boasted original scores for two of the pieces and interpolated texts in two others. The choreography, however, stayed back-dated and studio-bound: absorbed in the 19th-Century rhetoric of technical display or early 20th-Century stylizations of primal emotion.
Lewis marshalled intelligence and a sense of craft but seemed oblivious to the reforms of Tudor that transformed classical dance. Thus, even at her most stark, in the sex-war dance drama “Two/Time,” she prettified her subject and left dancer Patricia Morgan, especially, little more than a lyrical cliche.
Superimposed on Mark Governor’s jazz-flavored score, Lewis’ text kept telling us “She is ashamed of her passion,” but Morgan’s performance remained on the surface, focused on physical challenges. Her partner, Aaron Jennings, made a valiant attempt at characterization, but couldn’t do it alone.
Both Lewis’ familiar “At Delphi” and new “Passages” represented ballerina vehicles--the former an angular, moderne workout for the statuesque and accomplished Deborah Schreiber, the latter a neoclassical showpiece for Schreiber, Morgan, three subsidiary women and one man.
Lewis proved fluent in each of these hand-me-down idioms, but never offered a compelling personal statement or new approach to movement expression that would have made these works more than just generic, workshop exercises.
Atwell-Zoll’s “The Poet’s Voice” began with an intriguing structural idea: the ballerina (Jill Cassimatis) pulled by the voice of actor Charles Cameron away from her partner, Ramon Alvano.
Unfortunately, her choreography scarcely supported the death-and-the-maiden plot summarized in the program notes. Instead, we saw a florid, conventional pas de deux decorated with a few crude gestural references to a story never really told.
Her group piece “Bachelors” supplied a visual field for a pop score by the L.A. band Bachelors Anonymous--but where, in this smug compendium of other choreographers’ effects, could we find any suggestion that Atwell-Zoll had ever looked at young people and how they move?
Right now, Lewis and Atwell-Zoll are merely playing with ideas that William Forsythe and others worked through long ago. Consequently, their output inspires more frustration and impatience than if it was just hopelessly bad.