It's hard to define exactly what choreographic intelligence consists of, but you know it when you see it, as the program of "New Dances -- Short Solos" at the Washington Project for the Arts this past weekend demonstrated. The eyes have their own ways of discerning when the shape, rhythm and energy of the dance add up to a coherently expressive design.
The program offered eight solo and group pieces singly or collaboratively produced by New York dancers Jill Becker, Pam Hagen and Billy Yehle, along with Washington Carol Boggs. Attractive orginal music, using ostinatos and additive techniques, was provided by Violinist Ross Levinson and Gene Ashton, who played a variety of percussion and electrified plucked strings.
The works weren't all equally absorbing, but not one was less than interesting in concept. Several were particularly striking. "Loose Ups/Soft Downs," a duet by Becker and yehle, had the two of them rolling, curling, twisting, flopping and rebounding around one another, a virtuoso exhibition of softly malleable body shapes. "Off the Wall" by Becker. Yehler and Hagen, found the trio sliding in and out of phase with rubbery head, neck and torso movements. "Grid," an improvisation involving all four performers, covered the floor in crisscrossing forays, the dancers defining individual ornamentation within a consistent overall style. the performances were as vivid and exacting as the works themselves.
Feet First, the offbeat Washington troupe that has specialized in outdoor happenings at various city sites and monuments, has moved indoors to Garvin's Restaurant for "An Evening of Pain" over the past few weekends (continuing through Sunday).
I'm not sure the change of ambience is proving beneficial. The performance consists of a series of bizarre, surrealistic skits, as much theater as dance, relating to the general theme of anguish, but in a mocking, cartoonish vein. There's some arresting imagery here and far out conceits -- in one skit, a woman who has fallen to the floor is attacked by a squad of R2-D2 windup toys, for example. But the bright ideas tend to be overshadowed by a lot of bafflingly chaotic horseplay that simply fails to sustain interest. Debbie Foster and Carol Vaughn designed the skits and perform key roles along with several collaborators.
At the New York City Ballet performance of "Jewels" Saturday afternoon, Heather Watts and Bart Cook appeared for the first time in Washington in the roles Balanchine originally created for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella in the "Rubies" movement. Watts' trim line and sharpness of attack served her well, and Cook coped nicely with the wicked technical demands of his part. Both could use more of an impudent cutting edge, but the signs are they'll come around to it.