DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition
It wasn't just a crowded lobby on opening night of Dance Place 's 2003/04 season. It was a lobby with a particular crowd. The women-to-men ratio was about 8 to 1. The dress code showed taste, but avoided making statements. Clothing of substantial materials was being worn, tailored to suggest at least something of the body's form and permit movement freedom. Hair styles were severe, but conversation was animated. This was a modern dance audience, very much so!
On the program were 8 solos (one a doubled solo). Sometimes I've wondered whether the dance solo is really choreography. Is it truly a work of art the way even a duo can be? Solos certainly need not lack form. Yet it's not the objective sequences of these dances—their patterns, their structures—that are foremost in the audience's perception. Or in memory. When thinking of the great solos, it is impossible to ignore or forget them as manifestations of emotion, or will power, or character or enigma that the dancer and/or maker generates. Pavlova's Fokine swan was about sadness, Wigman's witch about meanness, Rudy Perez's Countdown about solitude. Because there's no one else on stage to limit expression, or respond to it, the solo doesn't provide the audience with built-in navigating tools. One reacts to the solo's totality as if dance plus dancer equals one entity, a being larger than life. Several of the Washington women didn't disappoint in that respect, and the program as a whole showed diverse ways of achieving results.
Lesa McLaughlin, a veteran of the Washington dance scene, had been away from the stage for a while. With her curvey but compact body, even features and college sophomore hair style, she still looked and moved like a member of a younger generation. McLaughlin was always analytic and that hadn't changed either. She seemed to be watching herself, stepping outside her body and questioning the adagio she danced in partnership with a long stretch of cloth suspended from above. She trusted that cloth more than herself, using it as a lifeline, a rope on which to swing and, perhaps, even contemplating it as a noose for a hanging. Then, though, McLaughlin deconstructed. She questioned the faith she had in that prop, and proved it wasn't reliable. With one small yank, the cloth's connection to the ceiling was undone and it fluttered down to the ground impotently. Torn (2003) had come to an end.
Nejla Yatkin must have calculated every aspect, even the most sensual, of For People with Wings, the solo with which she had introduced herself to Washington in 2000. Whether she nested on the ground, arms undulating swan-like on the cushion of her black tulle skirt, or stood up to step out of that skirt into freedom, each motion was drawn slowly, carefully, deliberately. Yet, Yatkin didn't project a coldness such as McLaughlin's. Vulnerability and unsatisfied passion became as palpable in this piece as the precision planning. Of striking appearance, Yatkin's features are reminiscent of Queen Nefertiti's, and like that icon she is of Eastern Mediterranean heritage yet has resided in Berlin. With her tall frame and mix of the muscular and the wiry, she moves with a surprisingly cushioned strength. Yatkin can be classically austere or vivacious in a Victor/Victoria way—which is very Berlin.
Harriet Moncure Williams, dancer, and Elisa Clark, choreographer, used Williams's long years of Washington experience as an asset in Returning (premiere). Again and again, Williams came back to a dance phrase and restated it with new determination. Her body, face and mind seemed moveable only by her own will. In the dignity of her stance and the down-to-earth reality of her motion, one could see not just sound muscle action but bone strength. Clark's use of Philip Glass's recurring music was inspired.
Deborah Riley looked splendid in Perfectly Unknown (2003), as upright, wise and luminous as a Pallas Athena of finest marble. However, the music she'd chosen was percussive and pulsating, and she didn't quite unbend to it. Linda Garner Miller looked even less comfortable dealing out dance phrases—short, clipped, gear-shifting ones—in Susan Shields's Remixed (2003). Gesel Mason, though, was perhaps too comfortable in Ladies First (2002). Trying out different roles, along with the appropriate footwear, she remained much the same affable yet self-indulgent character. There were no symptoms of selfishness in Hermione Rhones-Glass and Sylvia Soumah's Mama's Girls (2002), the doubled solo and a tribute to their moms. A lovely moment was the coming onto the stage of all the evening's other dancers to help these two younger colleagues gather up shell shards they had used to lay out a pair of circles for their dance. The piece, though, needs development.
Carla Perlo—Director of Dance Place and activist -- had the last word, and moves. She is a person who cares—about people, about dancing. Short of stature, still of eager energy and now with harmony, Perlo speaks her mind and conveys it in steps and dancing too. Her By Myself (2002) exemplified the loneliness of the soloist as well as an old truth—that human beings are not meant to be solitary creatures.
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