Debut of Keith Johnson/Dancers Resonates With Style and Purpose

The choreography of Keith Johnson is wind-swept and self-contained at the same time; that is, each individual body onstage seems to thrive on surges of internal desires, sometimes opening outward rapturously, more often driven to trace and retrace stylized, edgy patterns.

It's not an unfamiliar style--Johnson does a particularly well-crafted version of the contemporary modern dance strain that's characterized by drifty, athletic meanderings, a rich and quirky gesture vocabulary, and endless, stylish launching and gentle rebounding.

For the debut program of Keith Johnson/Dancers on Friday night, he and an able group of dancers presented three works at the Knoebel Dance Theatre on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, where Johnson also teaches.

"Dove," to a taped piano-dominated score (by Somei Satoh), was a trio for women in white who all seemed like part of the same flock. Their simple unison at the start gave way to constantly burbling interweavings, occasionally dotted with a solo of slightly different dynamics--Heather McArdle's sharper, weightier movements were a too-brief delight.

Johnson's restless abstract style was swifter in "Drown." Eight dancers in black did sequential solos in a rectangular patch of light, then turned the stage into a busy town square of entrances, exits, dance fragments and duets. Again, there was a score with tinkling piano (by Koen Brandt), but there were also ominous buzzes and reverberations, to which dancers darted and whipped about like well-oiled machines.

In these two dances, there was at once a feeling of variety and sameness because of repeated movement dynamics. A break in this pattern came with "Was," choreographed and performed by Johnson and Colleen Thomas. They danced phrases and used spoken text (uncredited in the program) to describe what they were wearing at moments during their failed relationship--a post-love duet with brand-name memories. A lot of style and a fair amount of dance substance--not a bad combination.

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