Washington dancer-choreographer Murray Spalding ushered in a new season for her chamber troupe at Grace Church this past weekend with a demonstration of contrasting aspects of her choreography -- abstract dances, on the one hand, and on the other, dances that shaded off into theater pieces, emphasizing satiric or phantasmagorical drollery.
One of the abstractions was a premiere. Called "Copy, Add and Divide," it was assembled from movement phrases improvised by the dancers, which were then exchanged, shuffled and combined. The piece was performed twice, at the start and finish of the program, the first time to a Bach Brandenburg Concerto (No. 2), and then, with a few new choreographic permutations and some touches of glitter added to the costumes, to disco music.
Like Paul Taylor's "Polaris," which it imitates in more ways than one, "Copy" demonstrates the changes in tone induced by altered lighting, dress and music on the same choreographic material. The movement itself, however, which has a deliberately automated look, is only fitfully interesting after its initial phrases. The other abstraction, "Duet for Glass Harmonica," is a pretty, if slender, lyrical composition that was persuasively danced by Spalding and Mary Guidici.
Spalding has a distinct talent for fey Gothic imagery, clearly manifest in the theater pieces. "In July, Out of the Garden and Back" makes zany allusion to the Garden of Eden, Boogie-Woodie and classical ballet. Even more effective is "The Doubtful Guest," a dance rendering on an Edward Gorey poem about a Victorian family and a lugubrious sprite who invades their household.
Despite the immaculate performances, the trouble with all these works, abstract and otherwise, was muted development. Spalding has some striking ideas, but seems hardput to elaborate them into shapely wholes.