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Oakland Ballet.

Oakland Ballet has long made a virtue out of the unusual combination of tight budgets and high ambitions. This year's repertoire season is a case in point. A mere three programs (twelve performances) long, it nonetheless featured three commissioned premieres: works by Remy Charlip, Emily Keeler, and Mario Alonzo. In addition there were two company premieres, one by company member Michael Lowe; the other, Gary Masters's intelligent staging of Jose Limon's Moor's Pavane. Instead of big names, director Ronn Guidi went after big ideas this season, giving emerging choreographic talents the use of a willing ensemble of dancers.

The Oakland dancers, many of whom are comparative newcomers to the ranks, performed with studied seriousness all season, particularly in the subtlest of the season premieres, Charlip's Ludwig and Lou. A dance of primarily non-dance actions, the company performed it with just the right blend of trust and good humor. Joy Gim and newcomer Stephanie Powell, the lead soloists in Friday's all-female cast (the ten-person cast changed with each performance, ranging from men only to women only and finally to mixed-gender pairs), performed the initial section of prancing little walks forward and backward to Beethoven's Twelve Contredanses with a splendid naturalness and ease that suggested the synchronous grace of trotting race-horses.

Charlip, who relocated to San Francisco several years ago, is a dancemaker of wonderful wit and warmth, and Ludwig and Lou showcased this sensibility at the same time that it elicited these qualities from the dancers throughout the nine sections of the work. Play with patterns, both those suggested by two-dimensional line drawings of pairs of people and gamelike tasks based on running, walking, and jumping, formed the choreographic grid of the second section, to Lou Harrison's Suite for Cello and Harp. Charlip offered the dancers choices of movement structure that demanded physical unaffectedness and candor. Ludwig and Lou succeeded at that hardest of assignments for a guest choreographer--it both highlighted the dancers' present strengths and challenged them to grow as diverse artists.

Growth of a more dramatic sort was demanded by Limon's Moor's Pavane, a wonderful addition to the repertoire. Here the cast of four (Abra Rudisill, Luis Mariano, Lara Deans Lowe, and Sean France) offered a less adventitious, more dutiful interpretation of this classic portrait of the Moor's obsessive love kindled to murder. The biggest shortcoming was Mariano's Moor, who tended toward a "just the steps, ma'am" approach to the choreography rather than inhabiting a stage character in a manner that suggested that this was an individual with a history and, most importantly, gradations of fury that lago's prodding eventually peels away to a glowing core of rage.

The most beautifully produced work of the season was Keeler's Our Town. Long a local choreographer of tasteful narrative works on Americana themes, Keeler presents here a "meditation" on Thornton Wilder's classic tale. The dance in fact seems twice removed in abstraction from the narrative line of the text, with the result being that we get a rich theatrical evocation of selected moments from the play but no sure sense of who the players are as individuals. The effect is that the choreography seems made grandly universal yet part of a drama so gesturally precise that one almost expects the dancers to burst into song as they huddle in the rain or stand astride skeletal wagons and look into the wings as if from across a great distance.

Expansiveness in fact is the movement leitmotif of Our Town, a quality Keeler locates in the bold love of Emily Webb (Rudisill) and George Gibbs (Joral Schmalle). She renders this reaching beyond one's grasp as first a physical reality in the lovely winding, rocking, incessantly moving actions of the townspeople and eventually amplifies it into the anguished yearning toward the heavens that the town feels at Emily's death.

All of these movement images are greatly enhanced by Richard Beggs's wonderfully evocative sound collage that swells from cricket chirping to a vivid sound portrait of a turn-of-the-century New Hampshire town. Power Boothe has created his trademark richly flexible set that adapts instantly from a series of dreamy French windows to the skeletons of a cluster of horsedrawn carriages being driven into the setting sun. As always with Keeler's work there are thoughtful echoes of other artists' influences here. For example after their initial dance of adolescent awakening and discovery in their respective windows--a study of restless arabesques and stretching leg extensions--Rudisill and Schmalle dance in a cagelike structure formed by the assembled windows that recalls the eerie cube from Paul Taylor's Polaris. Later a small group of townspeople gather and literally put their heads together, weaving their faces in a stacked head pose reminiscent of Nijinska's Les Noces.

Sharing the spotlight with works of this kind of maturity left Mario Alonzo's athletic The Unraveling and Michael Lowe's Witness, a transparently autobiographical work danced by Lowe, his present wife, and his former wife as The Woman Left Behind, looking unfairly thin by comparison.
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Title Annotation:Paramount Theatre, Oakland, California
Author:Ross, Janice
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Feb 1, 1995
Words:828
Previous Article:Cinderella.
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