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Dance review: Pennington and Yorke troupes premiere collaboration

December 5, 2011 | 12:50 pm

A cross-continent choreographic collaboration might seem a screwball idea, even in the Internet age. 

Not so for John Pennington of Pasadena and Yolande Yorke-Edgell of London, former members of the late Bella Lewitzky’s dance company. They now direct their own ensembles, and their first joint dance, “Overlay,” was constructed via Skype, email and, eventually, intensive in-person rehearsals. It premiered during a shared Pennington Dance Group-Yorke Dance Project concert at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater on Saturday (it repeats in Pasadena this weekend).

“Overlay” was reminiscent of Lewitzky’s movement abstractions and shared her distinctive ability to make body sculptures animate the very air into vertical and horizontal spatial planes. But make no mistake: “Overlay” bore Pennington’s and Yorke-Edgell’s own style and galloping energy. 

Their creative method required compromise, a process that brought their best to the fore. “Overlay” has Yorke-Edgell’s disciplined formal structure and Pennington’s quirkiness. With original music from Aaron Chavez, Mary Lou Newmark and Edgar Rothermich, “Overlay” allowed the eight dancers from both troupes to soar.

There were no tempering agents to focus the choreographers’ individual efforts. Yorke-Edgell’s “City Limitless” was a loose-limbed, syncopated tribute to Beat writer Jack Kerouac. Dancers James Cousins, Catherine James, Pari Naderi, Amy Thake, Joe Walkling and Yorke-Edgell (filling in for injured Gwyn Emberton) represented Kerouac's hipster friends, such as Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg (heard in recordings). Filmmaker David McCormick’s outstanding slides and moving images, and the period jazz recordings, created a swinging, on-the-road atmosphere.

Kerouac was an iconoclast, yet Yorke-Edgell’s reflection of him was restrained, timid even. Perhaps the piece's dynamic is less delicate when Emberton performs.

Pennington’s “Yield of Vision” was a too-fussy examination of visual perspective. The dancers illuminated and extinguished flimsy onstage lamps, which had minimal visual effect. The stage looked pretty cool, like a science fiction movie, curtained in aluminum-metallic. Mary Ellen Wright created attractive silvery costumes.

Pennington’s eclectic phrases and squiggles took the viewer on a circuitous backcountry road trip without enough signage. This viewer got left at a turnout. The piece's mechanics, including a jarring score from Tom Peters and Langhorne Slim, distracted from the intense performances (Li Chang Rothermich, Danae McWatt, Michael Szanyi, Tom Tsai, Yvette Wulff).

Still, these two have hit upon an arrangement with a promising future. Here's one vote for more trans-Atlantic collaborations.


Bella Lewitzky's former dancers build her legacy

Benjamin Millepied and Music Center announce L.A. Dance Project

 --Laura Bleiberg

Penington Dance Group & Yorke Dance Project, ARC Pasadena, 1158 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. 3 p.m. Sunday (Saturday show is sold out). $20. (626) 204-0331,

Top photo: James Cousins, left, Catherine James, Pari Naderi and Joe Walkling of the Yorke Dance Project.

Bottom photo: Thomas Tsai, left, Michael Szanyi, Li Chang Rothermich and Yvette Wulff of the Pennington Dance Group. 

Credit: Francine Orr/ Los Angeles Times