Modern dance began a little more than a century ago in attempts to connect with profound, ancient spiritual expressions, and it periodically returns to those sources of inspiration as an antidote to corrupt consumer culture. TRIP Dance Theatre's full-evening life-cycle "Inanna" had all the hallmarks of such a return in its premiere Friday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood.
As conceived and choreographed by Jill Jacobson-Bennett, Monica Favand (TRIP artistic director), Elaine Wang, Koala Yip and a host of collaborators, "Inanna" celebrated links between generations of women in a nonspecific rural society through large-scale movement rituals, more intimate dramatic episodes and also multidisciplinary statements relying on spoken texts, slide projections and a collaborative original score.
Although that score incorporated contemporary pop forms, the dancing aimed for a mythic past tense--all very swirly, windblown and lightweight, as if the piece's very imposing themes could be quickly or easily invoked and just as quickly or easily resolved.
The superficiality began in the dancers' bodies: No actions deeply weighted or produced from a powerful personal impetus disturbed the flowing, decorative style of "Inanna," and a text that seemed drawn from New Age greeting cards didn't help.
Soft depictions of manual labor, a sentimental mating dance, glossy views of the changing seasons plus slogans of affirmation and renewal: Favand and company delivered it all with unvarying sweetness and considerable skill.
But TRIP's uncommitted, prettified style proved unsatisfying compared to the rigor that butoh and other contemporary idioms bring to their choreographic life cycles. And the difference reflects a major contrast in worldview:
When spirituality matters in human societies, it exists as a value that makes the losses, challenges and milestones of life unquestionably purposeful. "Inanna," however, showed life without conflict or danger, and even death became a transition to a cozier relationship with Mother Earth. It sounds nice, but it didn't play.
As in past TRIP productions, Favand's costumes defined a bold creativity, but music director Charlie Campagna must be credited with the evening's most intense pleasures: atmospheric but sharply grounded instrumental and vocal performances.
Among the dancers, Elaine Wang gave a secure, appealing performance in the title role, dancing just as elegantly when being bombarded by projections or attached to Favand on an umbilical leash or being subjected to a series of ill-advised lifts by Johnny Tu.