Nesting Dolls Perform Like a Troupe in Search of an Idea

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the cloistered warmth of the buff-colored Harold M. Williams Auditorium at the Getty Center, everything on stage tends to look like an artifact. It's a space that makes well-designed dance seem like artwork in motion and gives choreographic ideas special clarity and force--a particular advantage for modern and postmodern dance.

But sometimes, the welcoming simplicity of the small theater just highlights a dearth of ideas or aesthetic allure, as in Friday night's concert by Nesting Dolls, a company transplanted to L.A. in 1999 after almost 10 years in San Francisco. With dancers recruited locally, artistic director Cid Pearlman presented two of her choreographies, "Church/Sea,"an excerpt newly adapted from a 1996 work, and "Drive," which was reworked after its premiere at Highways last year.

Pearlman's style is peculiarly featureless, falling somewhere between experiments with pedestrian movement and loose-limbed, release-influenced work. But it hasn't the craft, nerve or inventiveness of either of these forms at their best. More often than not, Pearlman's dancers looked merely aimless and somewhat inept. The fact that they all looked like diligent amateurs in the same way suggested they were following a choreographic directive to be carefully limp, lumbering and blunt.

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In "Church/Sea," a fence-like boat prow was upended to become a steeple. Dancers grouped, rising and falling at intervals or moving in unison. They occasionally lifted each other. They swung their arms or placed them in positions that seemed wholly unconnected to the rest of their bodies. Waving, wiggling and shimmying emerged in "Drive." They seemed to be teenagers in a rec room. Awkward, witless teenagers, who had the same nontechnical, smoothly lackluster movement vocabulary.

Tellingly, the music for both pieces did not similarly reject technical skill and dynamic nuance. The violins, voices and fluctuating rhythms of the two eclectic, recorded scores by Jonathan Segel gave the pieces whatever interest they had, as did the film projections for "Drive"--fast-paced road-trip footage, by Ann Kaneko, interestingly unfurling in a triangle-shaped portion of the backdrop.

Being thrust onto the road in skewed fashion by Kaneko's film projections was bracing and only made it more obvious that the dancing was going nowhere.

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