The L.A. Dance Festival materialized in early 2012 out of a frankly chauvinistic fervor to highlight the best homegrown companies together in performance. In unity there is strength, the thinking goes -- although sampler programs, with their 10-minute snatches of choreography, have inherent weaknesses.
It was as though festival founder Deborah Brockus was trying to stage a counterattack against the tsunami of excitement generated by Benjamin Millepied’s Music Center-supported L.A. Dance Project. Millepied’s Project, after all, had caused some bitter feelings when first announced in late 2011 among those who could only dream about the level of publicity and money that had been showered on the “Black Swan” choreographer.
Still, festival founder and primary curator Deborah Brockus has said she’d long nursed the festival idea. She and co-producer Diavolo Dance Theater appear to be in this for the longer haul. The second, expanded festival took place over the weekend, featuring 16 companies on two programs at Diavolo’s large and informal Brewery studio space.
Among Saturday evening’s eight companies were a standout, Ate9 DanceCompany, new to the city, plus a tantalizing look at a work-in-progress from veteran choreographer Regina Klenjoski.
Ate9 rolled into town a few months ago from Seattle, where choreographer and former Batsheva dancer Danielle Agami had received a 2012 commission for a full-evening piece, “Sally Meets Stu.” Ate9 presented a “Sally” excerpt, an amped-up, balletic folk dance, different styles bolted together with a hypnotic rhythmic expertise. It was an abstraction potent with suggestiveness, to a mix of recorded music by Moby, Gipsy Kings and others.
The 11 dancers, women in nude dresses, men in beige tops and black pants, surged and retreated through line dances, group sections, duets and solos, each with an edgy ferocity. Serious and committed, Ate9 demanded to be watched.
Klenjoski’s intriguing selection from “Fracture,” which will premiere this fall, paired moves weighty with gravity and magnetic pull. Performers Anna Bowden, Erin Butkivich, Danae McWatt and David Wornovitzky interacted through wordless vernacular gestures, but were also connected through some manipulative force that might not be all for the good. Wornovitzky seemed to perform abdominal surgery on Butkivich, who was ultimately left balancing on one leg, stranded without the electricity of human partnership.
Students from Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s apprentice ensemble made a strong showing in Tamica Washington-Miller’s “The Message.” A protest piece against greed, war and other human-manufactured plagues, Washington-Miller wrote a narrative text to combine with her rooted movement style. This was a call to action. Release the anger, the shaking fists, and turn off the electronic drone of bad news (represented by an onstage television), Washington-Miller seemed to be advocating. Become a living example of love and community to affect deep change.
In “te(1)am,” four dancers from the young Contemporary Modern Dance Cooperative used competition as any allegory for individual versus group goals. Despite some humor and effective performances, particularly by a fearless Chelsea Asman who leapt and rolled horizontally, choreographer Genevieve Carson’s intentions were muddied through her musical choices and sequined costumes.
Clairobscur Dance Company presented selections from Laurie Sefton’s award-winning “Bully,” an exploration, dramatically executed, of the tyranny of group psychology and individual victimization.
The engaging members of Invertigo Dance Theatre celebrated human resilience in “After It Happened,” which ended with Carole Biers shimmying brightly in a snazzy Carmen Miranda dress made from blue trash bags.
The festival opened with Luminario Ballet mixing aerial acrobatics, toe shoes and Led Zeplin’s “Kashmir” into an incongruous hodgepodge from “LedZAerial.”
Ptero Dance Theatre’s “Nature Nurture” had choreographer Paula Present turning her three female performers into chickens nursing eggs, an inharmonious comparison to human pregnancy.