Under the banner "American but Hyphenated," dancer-choreographer CatherineMarie Davalos and her eponymous company presented an evening brimming with visceral emotions and keen physicality on Thursday night at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.
Short in stature, Davalos, who telegraphs coy with her dimpled smile one moment and pained frustration the next, handily amplifies the adage that good things do indeed, come in small packages.
Inspired by Pat Mora's poem "Legal Alien," Davalos mines the byproducts of being Latino and female in a series of vignettes based on today's social-political battles.
With her back to the audience, Davalos opened the night in "Return," a solo premiere that had the artist decked out in cowboy hat and jeans, alternately hurling and hugging herself to Los Lobos music. Rag-doll Davalos registered a frenzy of loss.
Another premiere, "Direct Current," was a duet for Bridget Ingham and Ginny Marrin. Celebrating joy and defiance in a hyper-athletic manner, the pair executed backward somersaults and split-leg seated turns while Janis Joplin wailed on tape.
The schizoid nature of relationships and hard-core abuse reared their heads in the premiere "Population 345." Guest artist Victor Robles enters a small-town bar, checks out the shimmying goods (Davalos, the breathtaking Sharon Hoy and Dyan Yoshikawa), then segues from adoration to aggression in a heartbeat.
The country-western mix, with its fits and starts of slide guitar and Hank Williams, provides the pulse for a waltz, a two-step and some sharp twirling and spinning, while Helena Maria Viramontes' text illuminates the pain of violence.
It was a silent movement in the piece, however, with Robles cavalierly jerking around Yoshikawa, that was most palpable.
"Persimmon," "Legal Alien" and "Orale!," all earlier works, were also effective. Notable in the last was guest artist Casey Carney, who captivated with as little as a wrist flick as with her fine leaps. Davalos, never dull, continues to plumb her roots with bold, vibrant strokes.
* Davalos Dance Company performs "American but Hyphenated" tonight at 8:30, Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. $12. (310) 453-1755.