So you think you can choreograph?

"Spring Forward: Choreographer's Showcase 2010" spotlights a range of new works

Kat Worthington of Copious Dance Theater challenges the law of gravity

DANCE On March 11, at the eighth Dance Discourse Project — an ongoing series of artist-driven discussions sponsored by CounterPULSE and Dancers' Group — the topic was "Dance in Pop Culture." Reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance? and Dancing With the Stars have raised questions about their effect on theater-based dance. Most participants agreed that these media-driven programs have created at least one beneficial change. For reasons cultural and historic, large sections of the population still think of dance as something unknown and unfamiliar. The popularity of these programs — controversial as they are in terms of artistic quality — have made dance more accessible and democratized the art.

The night after that discussion, democratization of a different type took place in the Mission. It was time for another entry in Dance Mission Theater's long-running "Choreographer's Showcase" series. Twice a year a cattle call goes out to dancers in the Bay Area. It's not for a chance to audition or submit a proposal to be considered by experts. Rather, it's a wide-open process: you have something you want to show, let 'em know — first come, first served.

The result is a freewheeling two hours of dance, with usually about 12 soloists and groups. They range from the barely competent to the highly professional. The house is packed with family and friends who come to cheer their favorites and are exposed to a wide spectrum of theatrical dance. This latest show was no different.

Three soloists stood out. Herve Kayos Makaya's La Lutte Continue, performed by the choreographer, showed a superb dancer dragging two heavy burlap bags before bursting into an explosive African and Western vocabulary mix of leaping feet and racing arms. Currently a work in progress, the finished Lutte is something to look forward to at the CubaCaribe Festival in late April. First Creation had choreographer-dancer Alison Hammond scoot around the floor, shaking a tambourine. Kneeling on the floor, flowing hair obscuring her head, she deployed neck muscles the size of a prizefighter into a rollicking earthquake before sending her long legs into crotch-exposing propeller rotations. Surely this was one of the oddest performances seen on that stage. Liz Brent's masked that person you meet was so short it was over before you noticed it. Though tentative, the idea of using hands as a primary expressive tool warrants further exploration.

I have a soft spot for the large Strong Pulse Crew, Kirstin E. Williams' hip-hop student group from City College. For some of the dancers, it's a chance to shine; for others, it's a chance to try, and there is room here for all. Bringin' It Back Remix featured a welcome dream section in which the dancers choreographed their own parts. Meanwhile, Kimberly B. Valmore teaches college students using a ballet-based eclectic vocabulary. The imagistic Answer the Call, with a central couple surrounded by an ensemble moved with a pulsating febrile intensity, nicely balanced stasis against full-force propulsion. Some of Valmore's dancers have professional potential. Silvana Sousa's samba choreography for Syncope of Brazil highlighted the difference between dancers and performers. Except for the three soloists, these samba dancers were too self-consciously awkward to bring to their performance that all-important ingredient called projection.

Two companies managed to create compelling emotional atmospheres. Lee Parmino and Janey Madamba's Awakening made good use of a small corps in a piece that suggested disruption and healing of a relationship. There was something vaguely ominous in Hilary Palanza's bent-over and head-butting duets A Perplexing and Brief Study of My Loss. She was shattered by more the score's sounds of breaking glass.

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