DANCE REVIEWS : A New Direction for Modern Dance

At a time when modern dance is almost fatally marginalized in America, Pacific Dance Ensemble has boldly re-conceptualized the art in "Tom's Renaissance," an hourlong ensemble piece that received its premiere over the weekend at Cal State L.A.

Developing a format from TV talk shows and a rhythm from those restless entertainment-news series, five choreographers and two composers addressed the subject of alcoholism through energetic dance bites geared for the attention span of the MTV generation.

You want modern dance to be not merely accessible but useful ? Seek no further. "Tom's Renaissance" not only provided information on dealing with an alcoholic loved one, it included an interactive interlude allowing the audience to predict the ending.

Conceived and directed by company director Danielle Shapiro, the work remained dominated by its text, using dance to punctuate, embellish, illustrate and energize the testimony and data spoken by the dancers and guests. Tough-minded in concept and hard-edged in execution, it wasted little sympathy on alcoholic Tom himself, preferring to emphasize his disastrous impact on those closest to him. And it lost focus only when it stopped depicting behavior and indulged in flashbacks guessing at causes.

Besides Shapiro, the choreographers included Janis Brenner, Tina Gerstler, Shel Wagner and Scott Wells--with Wells supplying the most extended and distinctive essay in pure movement invention: a spectacular binge sequence full of wild, unpredictable partnering gambits derived from contact improvisation.

Music by Brad Dutz and Dan Fesman strongly supported the project's priorities, with onstage drum and marimba playing by Tom Macias and Jeanette Wrate further enhancing the vividness of this hot, bracing entry in the CSULA "Fall Ahead" performance series.

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