Because choreographer Wendy Woodson has given signs over the years of being an honest, intelligent artist with an inquisitive turn of mind, and because she's concerned with contemporary esthetic issues, one always comes away from her work wishing it were stronger than it appears to be. Wishing doesn't make it so, however, and one also leaves with a sense of the distance between the work's aspirations and Woodson's power to realize them.
Woodson and her Present Company are currently in residence at the Washington Project for the Arts, and last night, as part of WPA's Washington Dance Series, they offered their newest opus, "Baggage and the Fates, a journey with seven." It's a "dance/theatre" piece along the lines of Meredith Monk's multimedia productions, combining movement, gesture, music, sound, decor and light into a shifting tapestry of images.
The wistful ostinatos of musicians Chris Beaven and Zach Swagger give way at times to sounds of trains, ships, foghorns. Roy Breiman's sculptural "environment" -- plastic wires stretched overhead in intersecting strands -- suggests rails, telegraph lines, pathways. The travel motif is manifest in other ways as well -- the luggage toted by the performer (Margaret Meenehan) labeled "passenger" in the program; rocking motions implying heaving seas; the final arm-waving tableau.
But if this was a "journey," however metaphorical in intent, it was a peculiarly featureless and uneventful one, with no discernible destination. The dance movement as such was too hackneyed to evoke much of anything; the "characters" were so interchangeable it was late in the performance before one could determine unambiguously which two women were supposed to be the "fate." The images didn't germinate from each other in any recognizable progession; they just occurred, most of them indecipherably.
In short, the work lacked the aura, the resonance, the allusive force to sustain this kind of theater. What it conveyed was pretty much a blank. Images need a kind of potent individuality to be memorable -- Woodson doesn't seem to have found the key to their devising yet.