A dance about women's ways by a man? Well, why not? If men, and especially male choreographers, have no worthwhile insights into womanhood, we're in trouble.
At the University of Maryland's studio theater Thursday night, "Women's Lives: A Celebration" by Alvin Mayes, of the Maryland dance faculty and Maryland Dance Theater, capped a week-long conference on minority women. It's a suite of dances -- many with song and narrative accompaniment -- and musical interludes, loosely bound together by the title theme. "Reflections," for example, is a sort of dirge; "La Casa del Maestro" is a solo rumination on woman as man's chattel; "Four of Many," the most striking piece in its differentiation of roles, deals with archetypal destinies of black women; "First Meeting," a duet, is just that, a first amorous encounter; and "Dance Journal," another solo, mirthfully explores the tribulations of dance class.
The choreographic style throughout is middle-of-the-road eclecticism, with Graham and Ailey as the clearest influences. The cycle does progress from relatively somber aspects of female experience to more euphoric ones, but by and large it remains an uneven collection of separate pieces rather than a cohesive whole. The most eloquent and polished dancing came from Katharine Fowle and Terri Yates. Collaborating artists included pianist Isiah Johnson, the Byron Brown Singers, soprano Cindy Jay and actress-narrator Joni Lee Jones.