Donna Sternberg celebrated the 10th anniversary of her modern dance troupe over the weekend at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica by introducing a new work and reprising three others dating only as far back as 1992.
The new work, "Falling," danced at the end of the program (to a jazz score by Clarence Clemons), lived up to its title, offering wit and creativity in the variety of falls and half-falls the dancers did, and particularly in the unpredictability of their occurrence.
Unfortunately, when seen Friday, the intriguing premise was compromised either by the fatigue of the hard-working dancers--Jennifer Backhaus, Julia Felker, Susan Kawashima and Annette Sanchez--or their unwillingness to take real risks. Maybe both.
Nobody began a fall until she was certain that another woman was there to catch her. While the caution was understandable, it did take the edge off the dance and gave the choreography a stop-and-go quality.
Stop-and-go also characterized the serious-minded "Shadow Self," a four-part work (set to music by Toni Childs) dating from 1992 and depicting relationships within a cult. Here, the choreography alternated between--but did not integrate--dramatic gesture and dynamic movement. Danced by the same four company members, the work unfolded through literary concepts, not dance logic.
Sternberg appeared along with the other company members in the two remaining pieces, "Swept Away" and "Portraits by Egon Schiele," both dating from earlier this year.
"Swept Away" responded formally and lyrically, if not weightily, to percussion scores of various cultures. "Portraits," however, proved arresting and serious not only in its four-part masterly disposition of dancers in the stage space but also in the open-ended evocative imagery, postures and movements not tied down to the literalism that afflicted "Shadow Self."