Among the assorted pleasures of the Glen Echo Park summer dance festival is the free and easy atmosphere. Families bring infants and even pets; shorts and sunsuits are the formal wear here. Such an ambiance allows for the presentation of dance of every level and variety -- this is one place where small-scale work can be offered without apology and find an appreciative audience.
Yesterday's double bill was a case in point. First up was a modest anthology of work by three independent area choreographers -- Beth Easterly, Priscilla Barden and Diane Floyd. The program might have looked skimpy in a less relaxed setting; at Glen Echo it seemed a welcome diversion for a midsummer afternoon.
Easterly's "Beauties" was enigmatic. To a tape of what sounded like a furniture-moving session, five women in black and white shifted from one basic geometric formation to another in a manner deliberately flat in pace and dynamics. If there was a thematic or symbolic point to the tonelessness, it didn't disclose itself. Barden's "work in progress" to a Handel score mixed Taylor-like neo-classicism with impertinent punning -- a nose-wiping gesture, for example, that punctuated several phrases. "Orenda," also by Barden, resembles some of her earlier, ritualistic work, with a trio of women executing measured, curvaceous sweeps to a rhythmic ostinato -- it's fairly absorbing but rather monochromatic.
Both the Easterly and the Barden might have profited from performances of greater stringency and character -- the dancing was efficient but short on quality. Diane Floyd's two solos for herself, by way of contrast, were bursting with quality but deficient in substance. "Flight," a trail of spins, stretches, jumps and balances done in silence, and "Suite Melissa," a desultory interpretation of mediocre songs, had one strong point -- an ample exposition of Floyd's winningly lucid, pliant, sensuous and virtuosic dancing.
The second program was an appearance by the D.C. City Ballet, a "community ballet" troupe founded in 1976 by Bernard Spriggs, who provided the sketchily trained dancers with ungainly routines to music by composers ranging from Mozart to Erik Satie. If anyone cares to imagine that these performances had some relation to ballet, there's no law against it, but given the general absence of style and classical discipline, similarities would seem to be coincidental. The overflow crowd, however, remained happily unperturbed.