The benefit performance by the Murray Spalding Dance Theatre at the Marvin Theater Saturday night once again, as in the past, left the impression of a talent and individuality on the verge of realization, but somehow never ideally consummated in the works and performances.
The benefit was for an especially worthy cause -- to help match an arts endowment grant supporting Spalding's Georgetown Dance Series, which this year will present four imported dance events as well as Spalding's own company, all at Grace Episcopal Church. Given the dwindling spaces and auspices available hereabouts for visiting dance attractions of less than blockbuster dimension, this important series deserves all possible assistance.
New among the four Spalding works seen was "Silent Passage," a solo for Spalding herself to the familiar Ravel "Pavane." As the dancer traversed the stage in slow, gliding rambulations and spins, striking enigmatic poses she also transformed her stretch-fabric costume from an all-enveloping tube into a cowled habit, and then into a strapless gown, and back. The allegorical point of all this, however, remained moot.
Like "Silent Passage," the other, older works demonstrated Spalding's preoccupation with theatrical images and conceits. "Dick and Jane and Friends: A Primer for Dancers," newly revised for seven performers, uses Calder-like primary colors and a grade-school catechism as a backdrop for elementary dance steps and combinations. "The Doubtful Guest," pursuant to a narrated Edward Gorey poem, shows us a comically bloated "creature" upsetting the prim routine of a Victorian household.
The most beguiling number, "A Fine Romance," is a bouquet to the Astaire era, with the intriguing touch of Spalding herself as a kind of hermaphroditic partner, now masculine, now feminine, now leading, now following.
Spalding's dancers are neat and able, if never exactly dazzling, and his histrionic ideas can be charming. The drawback to virtually all the pieces, though is choreographic undernourishment -- one can't help but ask what sense there is in making dances that give dancing such short shrift.