In a better world than this, Francisco Martinez would be directing a well-funded regional ballet somewhere, creating works and developing dancers with his characteristic refinement.
Instead, 10 years after founding his Dancetheatre, this locally based teacher-choreographer is still searching for minimal recognition and support--with his ambitious anniversary repertory at Occidental College last weekend (seven pieces in two nights) stretching his company's resources to the limit.
At the Keck Theatre on Saturday, emotional values remained generalized and technique chancy. Even the sound system malfunctioned all evening long. Martinez's formal showpiece "Azulada" (1986) looked particularly ragged, although Tzer-Shing Wang managed to uphold company tradition with dancing of great warmth and finesse.
Martinez's two newest works each qualified as proletarian ballet, with "Lyric Trio" depicting physical labor and "Luna en Octubre" a night of social dancing.
Set to music by Shostakovich, the trio artfully contrasted the weight and solidity of two workers (Courtney Crossley and Frances Zapella) with the fleet and increasingly desperate drive of a third (Phaedra Jarrett). The situation and gestural imagery came from Millet's painting "The Gleaners," but the sophisticated blend of movement influences proved distinctively Martinez.
Steeped in Latino culture, "Luna" offered lilting popular ballads and steps suggesting folkloric dance along with balletic lifts and structuralist sequencing gambits. But here the result stayed sketchy, a wan suggestion of the relationships that need to be defined and dance opportunities explored for the work to come truly alive.
Despite all the swirling skirts and glazed smiles, it achieved genuine impact only in the urgent, mysterious "Tierra" sequence: three men beating rhythms on the floor while a woman walked across the stage as if in another world.
The sinewy modern-dance vocabulary used by those men also shaped "Variables" (1989), in which music by Milhaud accompanied the inventive interplay of two men and three women. Company members Jarrett, Zapella and Michael Meyer admirably held their own against two virtuosic guests: Nancy Lanier and Ken Talley of the Lewitzky company.