The dancing is the least compelling component of "Breath and Bone," an ambitious full-evening Trip Dance Theatre creation that premiered at the Unknown Theater in Hollywood on Friday.
For starters, the 75-seat theater (just off Santa Monica Boulevard) is a major pleasure, with a large stage platform, a well-designed lighting grid and comfortable seats. A few more spaces like this and the local dance community would be much healthier.
Next, Charlie Campagna's score seduces you with an impressive array of textures and rhythms that artfully exploit the resources of four-channel audio and, especially, the improvisational capabilities of vocalists Jessica Basta and Moira Smiley.
Finally, Trip choreographer and artistic director Monica Favand provides program notes suggesting a far richer dance experience than her proficient six-dancer company actually offers. Her concept involves contrasting genuine, natural, intrinsic human movement with the artificial learned behaviors that can distance us from our basic needs and natures.
Sounds great, but unfortunately there's nothing remotely natural about her choreography -- it's all studied, constricted, devitalized, often locked into glum unisons that look like penal servitude for her dancers.
Watching Favand herself in the ensembles, you recognize how committed she is as a dancer, body and spirit -- but also how much more authentic she is in passages depicting the alienation and fragmentation of the present than in suggestions of the impulsive, holistic freedom of our primordial past.
Sometimes her movement seems vaguely yogic or based on the movement of fish, but it never develops into anything definitive and almost always uses her best ideas ineffectually.
For example, among the spoken reminiscences we hear is one about a father lovingly guiding his young daughter with his hand on the back of her neck. Favand uses the image as a movement motif, but with all tenderness and sense of direction pruned away and only the bare physical link remaining.
If she keeps working on the piece, she may eventually achieve her own breakthrough into something genuine, natural, intrinsic about dance.
For now, however, "Breath and Bone" is not only preliminary but also insufferably preachy at times on the issue of WWWW: What's Wrong With the World.
Happily, at such moments you can close your eyes, let Campagna's music wash over you and enjoy what's right with it.
'Breath and Bone'
Where: Unknown Theater,
1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday,
2 p.m. Sunday
Price: $18 (students, seniors and online purchases) and $22
Contact: (323) 466-7781 or www.unknowntheater.com