In a program yesterday at Glen Echo, containing four works created over a half decade, Cathy Paine reconfirmed that she is both one of Washington's most accomplished dancers and one of the area's more stimulating choreographers as well.At the same time the event left a few troubling questions in its wake.
Paine's qualities as a dancer were seen most easily in "Pickup," a meandering solo to bluegrass music by Bill Monroe. She's blessed with an ideal dance body, lean and compact, and she's got it disciplined to the point where all her transformations of shape, tempo and dynamics appear to originate from a single, controlling source. There are no "bumps," at least none that aren't intentional, and all the details of movement are related organically to a whole phrase.
Two older works showed a strong "conceptual" bent. In "Duet," two casually rehearsing dancers have their bodies in one place and their heads in another. As they run through some undigested choreography in a neutral, by-the-numbers manner, they're also eating an apple and listening to a portable radio, a comment on the multi-track mind-set of the TV generation. "Changing Places" toys with the notion of spatial permutation, involving both the three dancers and the props -- a stool, a potted plant and a newspaper.
The more recent dances -- "Weasel" (1980), with its placid, birds-in-flight imagery, and the vagrant "Pickup" (1979) -- were something of a letdown by comparison. Instead of progressing toward flintier, bolder, a more challenging material, and a correspondingly more individualized movement idiom, Paine appears to be headed in the opposite direction, toward more hackneyed themes and a more blandly electic choreographic style. And though the dancing was generally able, with exception of Paine's solo, one could easily imagine sharper, fuller, more concentrated performances.
Much of the dance that emerged from area studios over the past year of so has been afflicted with very similar drawbacks, so that this Paine program seemed to epitomize the current strengths and weaknesses of the Washington dance scene as a whole. One can only hope the balance will soon start to tilt in a more positive direction.