The full house at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater last night took the Bill Evans Dance Company very much to heart, and it's not hard to understand why. This five-year-old, Seattle-based but nationally traveled troupe has a coherent look of its own, a smoothly professional veneer and a sense of knowing exactly what it wants and how to get it.
Founder-director Evans, who apparently supplies the whole repertoire, is not only a prolific choreographer (some 40 works) but, on the evidence of last night's three pieces, also an intelligent (at times "crafty" might be the right word) and resourceful one. These dances, though they tend to meander at excessive length, flow easily and naturally from their premises: Evans never seems at a loss for another twist or extrapolation.
The productions, moreover, are imaginatively lit and aptly, unostentatiously costumed. And the dancers -- six, including Evans -- are both able and appealing. The rapport they convey as a group seems to lie well below the surface -- they share things from the inside.
Still, one comes away with misgivings. For all his skill, there's something secondhand about Evans' work. Before he formed his own company, he was with Utah's Repertory Dance Theatre; now he seems engaged in manufacturing a one-man surrogate repertory embracing a multitude of styles. One piece is called "Mixing It Up" -- it could be Evans' theme song -- and it runs from jazz dance to tai chi to tap and back. "Impressions of Willow Bay" seems like Jose Limon revisited, in its curvaceous patterns and aura of wistful communion. "Hard Times," with its bluegrass music and country steps, inevitably evokes Dan Wagoner.
Yet Evans' eclecticism is odd. He's not plagiaristic or even imitative -- he's absorbed other styles, but he gives them back with a marked personal stamp. Ultimately, though, the feeling of these works is synthetic; the "poignancy" of "Willow Bay" and the crusty ironies of "Hard Times" seem programmed rather than envisioned. Evans has facility and things to say -- what he needs is a fresh authentic voice of his own.