Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The opening of "City Dance '78" at the Warner Theater Thursday was proof postive that the success of the '77 version of this "community dance festival" was no flash in the pan. The event has passed the experimental phase and demonstrated beyond doubt both its artistic strength and its staying power with the public.
The three-night festival has been expanded to take in nine troupes, instead of last year's seven, and only three are "holdovers." Despite the less than clement weather, more than 1,500 people showed up for Thursday's launching, which included the Washington Ballet. Greg Reynolds and Dancers and the LeVerne Reed Dance Company as the inaugural participants.
And the program despite a near-calamitous beginning, was a tribute to the remarkable range and vitality of indigenous Washington dance.
Disaster struck only a few minutes into "Fives," by the Washington Ballet's resident choreographer Choo San Goh. The ballet, set to Bloch's Concerto Grosso and calling for 15 dancers, begins in silence with a suspenseful assembly of the dancers in striking writhings and poses. But at the point where the music was supposed to commence, nothing happened - a recalcitrant tape deck failed its cue. The curtain fell, rose again, and the ballet started over, but apart from a few fluky seconds of full sound, the speakers never gave forth more than a barely audible tone through the three-movement piece.
Like battle-hardened veterans of the professional stage, the dancers carried on as if nothing were amiss. The tragedy was that the superb choreography of "Fives," so intricately coupled to its musical underpinnings, could not be seen as more than a skeleton. Nonetheless, the company's persistence was more than a triumph over adversity - it revealed with peculiar clarity the wonderful mettle of the dancers and the choreography, which held the stage and drew cheers even under such downbeat circumstances.
The only technical mishap thereafter was the lack of signal to indicate the end of intermissions, resulting in minutes of noisy scrambling for seats.
The staging of Greg Reynolds' "The Passion According to Mary," though, proceeded without hitch. The work, a kind of visual meditation on the crucifixion, discloses a marked gift for pictorial pose and compostion. Reynolds' apparent strong point. The movement, though, too often contradicts both the rhythm and emotional, context of the weighty music (Vivaldi and Bach) and only the dancers' conviction saved the dramatic unfolding from inertia.
The evening ended in a mood of jazzy gusto, with the contributions of the LaVerne Reed company. Reed's smaller pieces looked choreographically thin and derivative - the solo for Tammie Gibson, for instance, is uncomfortably like Ailey's "Cry." But the two large ensemble numbers - "We the people," created for the Capital Ballet, and "Sweet Lucy," a break neck dance contest vignette - had the kind of comic vim and Broadway electricity that yanked the crowd to its feet stamping and yelling. All in all a winning evening.