When Jan Van Dyke rummages through the traditional repertory to find music for her cool-headed thoroughly contemporary dances she picks the most danceable music imaginable and then does unexpected things with it.
In "The Story of Twilight," the new work which Van Dyke and her dancers premiered Saturday night at Lisner, two goblin-like creatures in purple wrestled and tumbled to strains of the high baroque: and in "Ceremony II with roses," Van Dyke pitted Pachelbel's "Canon in D" against Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones.
Van Dyke likes to work with discontinuities, playing music off against a background of silence or alternating movement against periods of inaction. And she's not afraid to stand still and let the pauses work for her.
In "Waltz" her opening solo, Van Dyke stood motionless with her back to the audience for the first four minutes of the piece while the sounds of "The Blue Danube" swirled around her. Then she began an excruciatingly slow dance which unwound, then unwound back into itself in an unbroken flow of movement which continued long after the music had stopped.
"Waltz" began in stillness and ended in silence. "Big Show," its companion piece, alternated stop-action with frantic activity and ended with soloist Van Dyke frozen at the intersection of two beams of colored light while the music continued, then faded out. Jack Halstead was responsible for the program's throughout.
The solos on the program were more appealing than the two narrative group pieces though in "The Story of Twilinght," the fish-flapping hand gestures used for speech in this pre-verbal dreamscape were intriguing.
Both "Twilight" and "Ceremony II with roses" contained long, dead passages when the performers fussed about on stage without either moving the action forward or creating visual patterns compelling enough to compensate for the lack of narrative momentum.
Despite its formal hesitancies and cryptic mannerisms, "Ceremony II" had special poignancy on this occasion. The dance traces Van Dyke's development as a dancer: the years of study and dreaming: a period in New York: her decision (in 1973) to return to Washington to work and teach. It addresses in a narrative, autobiographical vein the same tensions between the ideal and the possible which "Waltz" posed in purely formal terms.
Saturday's performance at Lisner with the Washington Performing Arts Society was Van Dyke's coming home party and while "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as Mick Jagger sings at the end of "Ceremony II with roses." Van Dyke got her bouquet of red roses afterward.