Does dancing in musicals constitute good choreography? Can a substantial program be built of only such pieces? Neither question can be answered with a strong yes after yesterday's one-night stand at Wolf Trap by the American Dance Machine.
There were 16 numbers, dating from the 1940s through the mid-'70s, and they were strung out with a bit of explanation and occasionally accompanied by singing. Judged as pure movement or dance drama, the work seemed derivative and thin, although it had been choreographed by such respected names as Agnes DeMille, Joe Layton, Bob Fosse, Michael Kidd, Onna White and Donald Saddler. It wasn't really their fault. They had been asked to supply climaxes or asides to singing and acting and were not given time slots to create something self-contained.
DeMille's women from the "Carousel" dance waddled as prettily as the yound city visitors in her ballet. "Rodeo," but in the ballet the movement does more than analogize them to geese. Ron Field's telephone dance from "Cabaret" alludes to the decadent atmosphere of Berlin between the world wars but doesn't dissect it with the pointedness of a modern dance work like Kurt Jooss' "Big City."
What the Dance Machine's director Lee Theodore has assembled is light entertainment. Her first program at Ford's Theater last year was even lighter because it has an emcee, Alexis Smith, whose sophisticated banter gave all the flapping, tapping and turning a witty counterpoint. Janet Eilber, the group's tall, elegant lead dancer, delivered a variety of movement styles quite expertly. Buzz Miller, Don Johanson, Denny Shearer and a dozen other able dancers supported and spelled her, though none proved to be real singers.