With his voice quavering, Company C artistic director Charles Anderson took the stage Thursday night at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek to welcome the audience and announce that injuries had sidelined his two male leads. He listed the significant program changes that had to follow and talked of the fortitude of the dancers such an emergency demanded. Then he asked everyone to call all their friends, talk to everyone they know, and get them out to see the show -- this weekend, or next in San Francisco, or their final program in May: Company C in its current incarnation will be closing shop.
Anderson never mentioned what, exactly, has been brewing behind the scenes, although trouble was apparent when he announced that executive director and company co-founder Elizabeth Reed was retiring.
Whatever led Company C to this juncture, the changes ahead for the small, artistically erratic chamber troupe mean dancers will be let go and with them the idea of a repertory company. While Anderson says he aims for a "project-based" organization, and new forms in the arts always are emerging, right now the word for that structure is pick-up company, with a single artist putting on concerts intermittently.
Under these storm clouds, the troupe soldiered on and danced with an earnest verve that approached but never quite nailed the elegance it aimed for. The dancers were at their most polished in the musically stormy "Weather One," a world premiere by former American Ballet Theatre ballerina Susan Jaffee set to the evolving electronic chamber work by the same name written by composer Michael Gordon, of Bang on a Can fame.
"Weather One" opened with projections of darning needle-sized rain drops. Later we saw flashes of lightning. And above the dancers' head hung small light-catching silver rectangles, which, as they were hit with stage light, suggested illuminated apartment windows high off a city street.
"Weather One" had an athletic, at times pugilistic style that suited Company C's dancers and included the weighted plié of a boxer and tight, fighting arms, aggressive kicks and emphatic pirouettes. Turns and leaps repeatedly dissolved into brief, lyrical couplings so that these fraught patterns seemed like a series of short squalls.
"Nine Person Precision Ball Passing," was all sunshine, by contrast. Twenty-eight years ago, Charles Moulton, then a downtown choreographer in New York and now a Bay Area resident, created this notoriously ingenious, winsome, and devilish exercise in limited, precision task action -- the passing of foam balls in three ascending lines of three movers each.
Moulton makes task into sport, work, optical trick, circus act and more, and continues to assert that contemporary dance has as broad a compass as it cares to have. The early slip of a red ball that flew out of a dancer's hand was an omen for an otherwise seamless execution that had more sweet irony than any other version I've seen.
Yuri Zhukov's "Railroad Joint," which premiered with the company last year, also looked to mechanized motion for inspiration, and made dancers parts of a larger whole in his brooding and often beautiful ballet. Lines of bodies broke open and closed, shattered and congealed, and train wheels squealed as a dancer unfolded from arabesque to a split on the floor.
Patrick Toebe's lighting and costumes by Laura Hazlett Designs gave the work an apt air of mystery.
"A Modest Proposal" by John Bohannon and Carl Flink opened the program and was executed with wry obedience by its nine performers. Available online in another version as a TED talk, this is a prolix paean to dance as helpmate to science. Happily, it concludes by celebrating dance as its own virtue; unhappily, it does this with contradictory abruptness.
Also on the program was Anderson's "Black Dog," which, like "A Modest Proposal," was patched together from the repertoire to pull the program out of emergency conditions and give us a penultimate sighting of the company in its current incarnation.
Presents world premiere by Susan Jaffe
When and where: 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek; 8 p.m. Feb. 13-14 and 3 p.m. Feb. 16 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco; special gala performance at 6 p.m. Feb. 15 at YBCA
Tickets: $25-$48, 925-943-7469, www.lesherartscenter.org; 415-978-2782, www.ybca.org