Though the Jan Taylor Dance Theater was making its inaugural appearance at the Washington Project for the Arts this past weekend, the newly formed group of nine dancers seems already to have an enthusiatic following, to judge by the size and response of Saturday night's audience.
In artistic terms, the troupe seems not quite fully congealed. Both the dancing and Taylor's choreography had a half-digested, blandly eclectic look that bespoke a lack of clear esthetic direction. The music, mostly assorted pop and ja with a couple of sorted pop and jazz with a couple of unrelieved and trivial.
Taylor's work was at its most effective in a lighthearted, satirical vein, as in "Clearasell Revue," yet another jitterbug spoof but passably amusing. The five other Taylor pieces included "Trialogue," which looked like watered-down Doris Humprey; "Omnivore," a lugubrious duet which seemed to be taking off on Alwin Nikolais; "Let's Do It for Nina," a sketch about weary chorines evoking both Paul Taylor and "A Chorus Line"; and a couple of nondescript pieces.
Sharing the program was guest artist Diane Baumgartner, a dancer of intriguing quality who has some serious and distinctive choreographic notions of her own. Baumgartner works with music of substance and originality (Crumb, Schuman, Mimaroglu) and comes up with evocative dance concepts - animalian stealth in "Primal moves"; deadpan slouching in "Monologue for Two"; Grahamesque soul searching in "Reflections."
In "Monologue," Baumgartner also enjoyed the advantage of a partner - Lisa Caldwell - of compelling presence. The trouble here was that none of the three works seemed to get beyond a stage of tenative development - "Reflections," for instance, cried out for a larger ensemble and more incisive, hard-edge dynamics. But at least, in Baumgartner's case, one is left with a sense of thoughtfulness and promise, rather than mere rummaging around in a choreographic playpen.