There's nothing more exhilarating in the theater than the discovery of a new, unfamiliar talent, particularly when one is unprepared for it. In dance, the big find of this past weekend was Mitchell Rose, who presented a program called "The Primal Oom Pah-Pah" at the Washington Project for the Arts, with himself and Martha Bowers as the peformers.
The only information about Rose supplied by the program was that he entered Tufts University as an electrical engineering major and graduated as the school's first dance major, that he has choreographed for companies across the country and that he's now a CETA artist in New York where he has his own small troupe.
That's not an especially imposing pedigree, but by the evidence of Friday night's performance, Rose is a formidably gifted choreographer of a strongly individual bent. One of his pieces was characterized by a parenthesis in the program which read, "tasteless guffaw-mongering." The wonderful thing about Rose's work is that this is exactly what he doesn't do. His dances abound in wildly funny images and strategems, and some of them are based on outrageous conceits, but though the content may be lowbrow, the level of taste is invariably high. What's more, Rose achieves his witty effects choreographically, without resorting to the easy gags and slapstick that have become so common lately.
Humorcin dance is hardly new - Charles Weidman, Murray Louis, Paul Taylor, Don Redlich, Twyla Tharp, Meredith Monk and Gladys Bailin have been some of its most effective practitioners - but Rose's brand of zaniness is quite original, and clearly an emanation of his own antic personality.
Slender and bearded, Rose has the look of an inspired kook and theability to make you laugh just from watching his manic stare. In the very first piece, "When Insane, o as the Sane Do," he entered as a mad, Frankenstein-style professor, and proceeded to demonstrate the gestural skill and precision of a polish mime. But there's more to it than that - in the following work, it was euqlly evident that he is a dancer of exceptional acuity, control and imagination. Partner Bowers, a splendid match for him in facility posesses a droll persona of her own.
Rose's choreograhy wasn't just amusing; it had form, shape and rythm, all without resorting to cliches. Ingenious musical choices - ranging from "Turkey in the Straw" to a Each contata - and an amazingly resourceful use of props were other notable traits. And anyone who can make the act of opening a lunch box an esthetic coup is obviously an artist to be reckoned with.