The West Coast premiere of Tina Croll and James Cunningham's poignant and evocative "From the Horse's Mouth," a live documentary in which 31 dancers perform and talk about their lives as artists, proved a centerpiece of the annual Dance Kaleidoscope series at the Japan America Theater on Friday.
In addition to the participants' structured improvisations, their stories of teachers, road trips, mishaps and what it means to dance revealed the passion and pain of this rarefied world. We glimpsed humanity in their art, and were, in a word, moved. That the Lester Horton Awards were also presented that evening made the piece more resonant.
Closing a program of mostly modern dance works, and sandwiched between two other Kaleidoscope nights (California Plaza's Watercourt and the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre were the other venues), Croll and Cunningham have struck gold in their simple format. Dancers of different generations and disparate styles created a panoply of engaging moves.
Whatever age or genre "Horse's Mouth" didn't encompass, other Kaleidoscope performances did, including the cultural. Classical Indian dance shimmered, notably in the astonishingly composed 12-year-old Sharanya Mukhopadhyay, whose filigreed fingers embodied the East Indian Odissi dance, in Pankaj Charan Das' "Mangalacharan-Nava Durga."
Arpana Dance Company essayed a rhythmically complex Bharata Natyam in Ramya Harishankar's "Bho Shambho." Winningly fusing Bharata Natyam with modern dance and ballet, Parijat Desai gave us "Thaka Dimi," a fluid yet propulsive duet between her and Cassandra Chae.
Less successful was Cindera Che Collective's "Heroes," in which her company executed mostly acrobatic moves to Paul Alexander Gonzalez's live percussion. Also featuring onstage musicians, Kayamanan Ng Lahi Philippine Folk Arts presented the refreshingly pure suite "In the Palace of Terraces," choreographed by Barbara Ele and Joel Jacinto. More from the global front: Liam Harney Irish Dance Youth Company displayed speed and precision in Harney's "Celticfusion."
Silence accompanied Shel Wagner and Stefan Fabry in their "Time and Time Again--1999," a contact improvisation that made use of Cal Plaza's outdoor space. Undulating around each other, the duo finally plunged into the water with single-minded daring.
Other duets: Stephanie Nugent's uninventive "Eggshells" found her and Carmela Hermann in a narrative abstraction based on Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan; Cate Caplin and Murray Phillips performed a splashy ballroom dance, "Concerto in F," Joe Cassini's new work, set to Gershwin; and Naked With Shoes (Anne and Jeffrey Grimaldo) performed their "Spikes First," a flat, robotlike mating dance in which the pair repeatedly swatted their suit jackets.
This jacket-swatting theme recurred in Robert Gilliam's premiere, "Vanity," a misguided foray into Dali-inspired surrealism, with powdery wigs, chin straps and stilt-walkers brandishing mirrors.
There was, however, an array of appealing soloists: Ilaan Egeland, whose "Knick Knack" incorporated spoken word with ferocious high-energy moves; Richard Korngute, in his "For You," combined the mystical with muscleman stances; a lyrical Kathryne Cassis danced three Isadora Duncan works, and the heat-inducing Yaelisa & Caminos Flamenco Company (a singer and guitarist) offered up a mesmerizing set, the dancer's artistry radiating from her flying feet to the spectacular handwork.
Other efforts: Wendy Rogers' "Encryption" alternated between angst and ascetics, a trio moving from leaps to a kind of trance-spinning. Also hard-edged: three dancers each from Winifred R. Harris' Between Lines and Hae Kyung Lee and Dancers, in Kyung Lee's "Forces Within," a bleak, repetitive work with furious partner whirling.
Kaleidoscope, now in its 11th year, again celebrated the power and diversity of dance, a testament to our prismatic city.