What with all its old amusement park relics, its carousel that sports not only horses but ostriches and rabbits, its solar-heated yurt, or hut, and much much more, Glen Echo Park has to be one of the most wonderfully peculiar attractions in the Washington area.
The park came officially to life yesterday afternoon as the fourth annual Chautauqua season got under way. Despite the drizzles, a fair-sized group of Sunday arts lovers listened to Terry Plumieri's jazz and John Jackson's blues, rode the illuminated, chortling merry-go-round, and ventured inside the crumbling but enticing Spanish Ballroom for a look at the dances of the Glen Echo Dance Theater.
Both the dance troupe and the space in which they perform have made significant strides since last summer. Pola Nirenska, one of D.C.'s most respected teachers and choreographers, is now artistic adviser to the company, which may account for the dancers' newfound assurance and ease. And certainly they've been affected by the improvements wrought on their performing environment. The stage is large and smooth, the technical equipment (or is it the technical help?) has grown more sophisticated, and, wonder of wonders, the heat and the bugs have vanished.
Yet, choreographically speaking, Glen Echo Dance Theater still has a long road to travel. Of the four works presented, only one, Nancy Galeota's "Suite Sorella," a loving, carefully crafted duet for the choreographer and Sandy Asay, worked in clear and simple ways. The two women moved together joyfully, their bodies fitting like pieces of a puzzle, their hands connecting in gestures of affection and support.
The rest of the program suffered from a common creative malady: over-ambitious ideas and too-predictable, muddled results. Jan Tievsky's "Contrasts" dealt with that over-explored realm, Hell, in a painfully cliched manner. There were innocent maidens, an adulterous pair, writhings by sinners in black and much general angst and gyration.
Tievsky's "Spectrum" attempted to translate paintings into movement material. The batiked bodysuits that the dancers wore suggested painted canvases, but the twirls and prances did not. And "Allegory," Cheryl Koehler's qirky combo of potted plant on stool, sound track of dripping faucet and three dotty clowns, left one asking, "Allegory?"