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LINES Contemporary Ballet

'The Patience of Aridity, Waiting for Petrichor,' 'Coleman Hawkins,' 'Baker Fix,' 'The Rite of Spring'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

April 9, 2004 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Spring is here, and with it comes certain rites, among them, the annual company seasons.

One has to sympathize with the directors of the small to mid-sized local dance companies that produce seasons only once or twice a year. There is a complex situation, a kind of vicious cycle with which they must constantly contend: struggles to secure funding, loyal donors and grant-givers who want to support mainly new work. Then there is facing the questions of what the company can afford to produce, what can they afford to produce well, how many people, can they afford live music, can they afford new costumes. Add to that the inexorability of the schedule - a season in fall, a season in spring seem almost de rigeur these days -- and you wind up with a lot of new work, produced under hardly optimal conditions.

In LINES Contemporary Ballet's recent season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, one senses the tyranny of these competing needs. Four "world premieres" were on the program, choreographed to a dizzying variety of music from the luscious, smoky jazz of Coleman Hawkins to the driving, fearsome "Rite of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky -- and yet, not one of these ballets really looked ready to be on the stage just yet.

I'm not talking about opening night jitters, or the kind of performance you see when dancers forge on through exhaustion or injury. Nor was it a show lacking in high production values - the costumes by Robert Rosenwasser and lighting by Martin Gagnon gave the entire evening the polished setting one has come to expect from a LINES production. No, the problem at its core was that this was a series of interesting ideas confined by underdevelopment.

To say that it was a weak performance would not be quite fair. The company members, now numbering at 12 (including Xavier Ferla, who did not dance in this show), are one of the strongest groups that King has yet gathered. From the immensely talented Drew Jacoby to the newcomer John Michael Schert, there is a young generation of performers that take the stage with an assurance that almost matches that of company mainstays such as Maurya Kerr and Gregory Dawson.

Laurel Keen, who performed with Pacific Northwest Ballet, caught my eye in the evocatively titled "The Patience of Aridity, Waiting for Petrichor." As with many of King's titles, this one expresses a kind of lyricism that ones wishes were more fully reflected in the choreography. Petrichor is an obscure but lovely word that refers specifically to the "smell of rain on dry ground." Inherent in it is a sense of lonely anticipation, and Keen's short bursts of movement coupled with the lonely "cello playing in a Metro station" accompaniment of Miguel Frasconi's music seemed to fit the notion.

Tanya Wideman-Davis, dancing with Brett Conway, brought a satisfying air of danger to their abstract duet, with a slightly romantic edge that was missing in Chiharu Shibata and Prince Credell's performance of the pas de deux, "Coleman Hawkins." With the amount of sex oozing from the Coleman Hawkins Quartet recording, it takes some real iciness to drain the romance out of this piece, but Shibata and Credell evinced no magnetism at all. Indeed, Shibata barely deigned to look at him, making me wonder if they had just been in the middle of some huge argument offstage. The choreography here seemed credible enough, and it would have been interesting to see what Davis and Dawson, the other cast, did with it.

"Baker Fix," anchored by the engaging Kerr, was less of a ballet than an excuse to dress up this statuesque beauty in Colleen Quen Couture. Nevertheless, it was so different from King's usual style that in a strange way, I found it enjoyable. This was not the stuff of deep soul-searching, and a solo for Lauren Porter inserted in the middle was just plain odd, but watching that smile, the kind we've wanted to see onstage for years, break across Kerr's face was a pleasure in and of itself.

The big premiere, though, was King's version of "The Rite of Spring," which brought in the whole company plus a baker's dozen of guests, including students from the Lines Ballet School and School of the Arts.

The "Rite of Spring" is a tricky ballet to stage, not merely because of the complexity of the Stravinsky score, but also because of the simplicity of the concepts. The best dance versions that I have seen have always needed a steady, sure hand guiding the action. The company already sets themselves at a disadvantage by using Michael Tilson Thomas's towering San Francisco Symphony recording, which was never conceived with the idea of sharing its theatrical "space" with dance.

In this production, with nearly thirty dancers, there's a good bit going on, but most of it chaotic. Between the gold-toned leotards, shorts and stardusted tunics, and the shifting light that looks vaguely like the hemoglobin-sucking cloud in Star Trek Episode 47, the proceedings look less like vernal orgy, and more like a gymnastics exhibition on Spacedock.

With so much material to utilize, King falls into familiar patterns: the flailing arms, the quick jabs of pointe work, the procession of wacky poses as the dancers process down down a diagonal. The steps have the effectiveness of some of King's works, but not here. His movement vocabulary, seemingly shoe-horned into the Stravinsky structure, does little to illuminate either the music or the concept.

It's too bad really, because there are elements within the work that spark interest, but at this stage, "The Rite of Spring," like most of the other works, looks undercooked and meandering.

Edited by Jeff.

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