Originality isn't a prerequisite for effective choreography, as last night's concert of works by John Perpener at the University of Maryland's Studio Theater demonstrated. Perpener employs a traditional jazz dance vocabulary, with some generalized modern dance, show-biz and pop seasonings, conjoined in this program with music by Keith Jarrett, Gershwin and Brian Eno, as well as additional gospel, blues and jazz numbers. There's nothing much innovative about the dance language or the choice of music, but Perpener displays a sure, shrewd hand for putting dances together coherently in a variety of formats. Without raising any rooftops, last night's dances all had a smooth linkage of parts, a nice sense of flow, and spacious, expressive phraseology.
Perpener, a member of the University of Maryland dance faculty, has performed with the Hartford Ballet, and with such area groups as the D.C. Repertory troupe, Cathy Paine and, currently, the Maryland Dance Theater. He's got an admirable plasticity for a dancer of such a relatively large, athletic frame. His eloquence as a performer was manifest from the start in the program's opener--"Fusion," a warmly lyrical duet (co-choreographed by Sandy Pollock and staged by her) which paired Perpener with svelte Vanessa Jackson Johnson.
Other works included "Coquette," a vampish solo for Patricia Suto to Gershwin's "Three Preludes"; "Icon," a sextet which neatly reshuffles the cliche's of Alvin Ailey's revivalist idiom; "Unlovesong," a torchy solo exquisitely danced by Terri Yates; and "Birdland," an ebullient jazz ensemble for 10 women. The most ambitious piece was Perpener's own solo, "Landing," to an Eno score. It's presumably a mini-parable of the black experience in the New World, from arrival as a slave to the auction block, to a redeeming vision of freedom and lost homeland. It doesn't completely work, but it's imaginative and honest and that's a lot.