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Guest choreography helps Garrett dancers look good

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This week, Janice Garrett & Dancers are celebrating their fifth home season with two world premieres, two older hits and a chicken dance. Although several memorable moments occur in the modern company’s performances of pieces by Garrett, guest choreographer Charles Moulton’s “Chickens” is what stands out in the show.

Onstage at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater through Sunday, the show starts with two works created by Garrett in 2005, “Brink” and “Fast Brass.” These compositions are polar opposites in concept and in execution. While in “Brink” Garrett’s choreography showcases the fluidity and easiness that are a trademark of her company, “Fast Brass” is a short, quick-paced dance with comically ethnic elements set to the beats of a Romanian brass band.

The two world premieres, also choreographed by Garrett, are another pair of opposites. Although both works are about the grief the choreographer experienced when her father and sister passed away and are surrounded by a wonderful, ethereal lighting by Christopher G. Maravich, they are fundamentally different in pace and mood.

“10 Studies on the Vicissitudes of Grief” starts off with the six dancers supporting one another and carefully laying one another’s bodies to rest. Everything happens as if in a slow-motion film sequence, but the metaphor soon loses potency when the dancers no longer function as one mourning organism. Another part of the problem lies in the repetitive score by Charlemagne Palestine that weighs down on the audience and makes the choreography bleaker.

“Archimedes’ Revenge” sets a completely different pace to the exciting score by Michael Thomas performed by Brodsky Quartet. The company’s sextet creates a whirlwind of movement, but unlike in the previous work, there is just too much happening onstage, a lot of running, jumps and pirouettes that the company — two men and four women — performs with indefatigable vigor. The choreography is stunning in its pace, but at the end, the overall impression is a blur.

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The culmination of the evening is Moulton’s hilarious “Chickens,” created in 1991 and performed by Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project, among others. Unlike in Garrett’s abstract works, “Chickens” tells a story that is set to a narration by a boy who thinks he is a girl, who loves a duck that thinks it’s a chicken. The boy’s voice and rationale have a tinge of Forrest Gump in them and set a comic tone brought to an apex by a rowdy, squawking “corps de poulet” led by a proud rooster-choreographer.

“Chickens” is undoubtedly more theater than dance, but in the company of four conceptually difficult works, it gives the program a spark of exuberance.

Janice Garrett & Dancers

Where: Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today through Sunday

Tickets: $26 general, $18 students

Contact: (415) 345-7575 or www.fortmason.org/boxoffice or www.janicegarrettanddancers.org

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