As one of the most notable modern dance choreographers in Washington, Jan Van Dyke has pretty well covered the waterfront. She created solos and group works, large and small. She's used live music, recorded music, no music at all. She's worked in proscenium theaters, bare studios, museums, city streets, playing fields. She's choreographed for the theater (Arena Stage, recently, for example), for athletic events, for symphonic concerts. The content of her many dramatically tinged pieces has ranged from the allogorical to the surreal to the autobiographical.
Hence it's not altogether surprising that she should turn in her latest compositions -- including "Circling, a Palindrome," introduced by an ad hoc troupe at the Dance Project this past weekend -- to pure morphology; to abstract design, and the conceptual problems it poses.
"Circling," like Van Dyke's "A Dance in Two Spaces," is concerned with permutations of spatial and temporal order, and like her more recent "Stamping Dance," with rhythms generated by the dancers' own physical actions. Its ruling idea is given in the subtitle. A palindrome is a pattern that's the same when reversed -- a word like "noon" or a number like "101" are classic examples.
For the performance of "Circling," the audience is seated on four sides of an open, rectangular space. At the start, eight dancers stand in a tight oval. A simple stamping rhythm is set up, and soon amended by hand claps and finger snaps into more intricate patterns. The ensemble broadens out into a series of formations -- concentric rings, hora-like chaims, sliding rows, and enentually, a large, running circle. En route come three contrasting solos and a duet. At the midway point -- the large circle -- the entire sequence is repeated, but backward, with both the order and direction of the movements reversed.
All this, given the emphatic character of the movement and a duration of 30 minutes, was a formidable physical and mental challenge for the performers, who managed it handsomely.
"Circling" recalls earlier task-oriented or minimalist works by such people as Anna Halprin, Twyla Tharp and Laura Dean. Like these precedents, "Circling" has both mathematical interest and kinesthetic impact. Like them, too, however, it would seem less valuable as an end in itself than as a possible springboard into choreography of a more richly expressive texture.