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Originally published Friday, February 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Cruz Control and locust put on a high-energy double bill at the Moore

Two Seattle dance companies — locust and Cruz Control — bring a high-energy double bill to the Moore Theatre.

Seattle Times arts writer

Dance preview

locust and Cruz Control

Presented by Seattle Theatre Group, 7:30 p.m. today, Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $18-$20 (877-784-4849 or www.themoore.com).

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If human dance energy were a viable alternative fuel, then tonight's double bill at the Moore Theatre would be declared a vital national resource.

Cruz Control, a 30-strong hip-hop troupe led by Daniel Cruz, will premiere "Dance of the Dead." Zeke Keeble and Amy O'Neal's locust, spurred on by the beatbox wizardry of Keeble, will debut "crushed" — their latest work.

I dropped by rehearsals earlier this week and saw works in progress still taking shape, but showing plenty of promise.

"Dance of the Dead" might be seen as an afterlife quest and nightmare in which three factions of the dead — dressed in white, gray and dandified black-and-red, respectively — are resurrected and contend with each other. The dancers' moves have a pop-and-snap fluidity, inflected with lightning-speed gymnastics and the occasional ballet move. Against a backdrop of ongoing conflict, various couples act out different dramas and dooms.

Cruz's young dancers — many of them veterans of the hip-hop dance classes he teaches at the Westlake Dance Center — exude a reckless energy that they wield into sharp discipline when given a fierce enough beat to follow. The recorded score includes songs by Lil Wayne, Erykah Badu, Portishead ... and some frenzied taiko drumming.

"I like to stretch myself and use different genres of music," Cruz says, adding: "I recently found the iTunes store and finally figured out how to use it."

His dancers' skills are diverse as well. "They have the ballet and modern background," Cruz says, "and they cross over into hip-hop — and vice versa." The only pay they get is "experience and bragging rights," he adds. But from what I saw, they're committed to their craft.

"I try to showcase what people know," Cruz says, "and make them look the best they can be."

Like Cruz Control, locust (always with a lowercase "L") draws in part on a hip-hop/breakdance vocabulary. But choreographer O'Neal extends it and refines it considerably.

In "crushed," five dancers are pushed in and out of squares and corridors of light, contending for the spotlight or being shoved into it involuntarily. In rehearsal, dancers O'Neal, Ellie Sandstrom, Amy Clem, Jessie Smith and Benjamin Maestas all demonstrated a swift, clean control that — even in rehearsal without Ben Zamora's special lighting effects in play — was a joy to watch.

locust has been around since 2000, performing at On the Boards and Velocity Dance. In the case of "crushed," co-directors Keeble and O'Neal atypically started with a title, then came up with a dance about "being blindsided" to go with it.

"We tried to stay away from the whole love angle of the word," Keeble says — although O'Neal concedes an erotic component has crept into the work. (In some duets, the coupling is more akin to athletic hostility than loving union — but it does have a feverish carnality to it.)

In developing the work, the dancers came to realize that the person doing the blind-siding can often be as affected as the person being crushed.

"In a car crash," Keeble observes, "somebody's at fault — but it doesn't mean they're not traumatized."

Keeble's live score — in which he interacts at the microphone with his own prerecorded sounds — offers a layered, electronic soundscape in perfect tune with O'Neal's choreography. There's also a video component to "crushed" that sometimes echoes and sometimes comments on the live stage action.

As for the movement, it's both daring and accessible.

"My goal," says O'Neal, "was to mix what I would do if I was dancing in a club with all my training as a dancer, and have that be a seamless vocabulary."

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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