One of the reasons Laura Dean's choreography gets you right in the bread basket is that her dance works tap some of the most ancient, deep-seated movement impulses known to mankind -- those Ur-throbbings of the blood and nerves that have impelled people of every time and place to move their bodies expressively. As the program of the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians showed last night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, in the first of three performances for the Dance America series, Dean has harnessed these impulses toward original and contemporary goals. Despite such transformations, we still feel a direct, powerful tug at our kinesthetic core, and thus a visceral and immediate impact.
The throb is not only universal, but communal, and hence there are no caste distinctions among the Dean dancers; though they function as individuals as well as an ensemble from time to time, the dance material is equally distributed among all. This ritual aspect ties in with other elements of Dean's work that seem derived from non-Western and folk cultures. The whole emphasis on steady pulsation and repetition, both in her choreography and music, as well as on additive elaboration and gradual shifts in pattern, is suggestive of Eastern sources.
Yet the end result is pure Dean and unmistakably American. A decade ago, Dean started by making bare, minimal pieces based on elemental motifs like walking, running, stamping and spinning. Since then, her work has progressed through a series of enrichments. The old motifs are still present in "Song" (1976) and the new "Tympani" (1980), both on the Terrace program; but such new accretions as arm-rolls, jetes, tap-like footwork and shimmies make these later creations seem almost lush by comparison. Both works call for two pianos, and six dancers of extraordinary stamina. "Tympani," with its added drums, its black attire and flamboyant movement, seems the more forceful of the two. The bright red costumes, madrigal singing and circulatory flow of "Song" make it an essay in sustained euphoria.