It is not easy to say why the offbeat, imagist theater works of, say, Meredith Monk or Robert Wilson, strike one as so piercing and profound, while those of Wendy Woodson-a Washington choreographer, who offered a program at WPA last night with a troupe calling itself Present Company-seem so generally vacuous.
Woodson's "Porches, a Collage of Images in Movement and Sound," a series of vignettes for one to seven performers linked mainly by a recurrent use of porch furniture, appears to work with materials similar to Monk or Wilson, and to strive toward a similar goal: attaining dream-like levels of symbolic meaning beyond the "real" appearances of the performance.
But there are differences. At the visceral level, Monk and Wilson leave one in a state of esthetic shock. Their visions and rhythms have a disquieting strangeness, and overtones which resonate deep in the realms of myth and reverie.
Woodson's images-a couple playing cat-and-mouse on a divan; another couple sipping tea, perusing newspapers and exchanging whispers-leave one blank. They seem dead-ended in their banality and failed wit. The dance components are so phlegmatic and pedestrian they almost seem to beg disregard. And beyond this, there's little but kindergarten games, some rudimentary mime and mugging, and stares directed knowingly at the audience.
The point is, it's not enough merely to want to transcend reality-it takes transcendant formal skills and feats of imagination, and this is where Woodson appears to fall down.