No art form is as youth-obsessed as dancing; there's always some new baby ballerina twirling into the limelight, and some 40-year-old "oldster" fading out. Yet fine dancing means more than a mile-high kick and a malleable frame. Ruth St. Denis' eloquent hands and personal magnetism kept her performing into her eighties. Tap-dancer Honi Coles may be 70, but his feet still move like the wind. Annabelle Gamson's exultant evocations of Isadora Duncan belie her middle-aged status.
And then there's Jeff Duncan, a tall, lean man in his early fifties, who exemplifies the bold, hyper-alert Modern Dancer. His solo performance Saturday evening at the Dance Place made one aware of the immense power that a solitary figure can generate. Duncan, founder of New York's Dance Theatre Workshop and currently Artist in Residence at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, is well-known for his work with the choreographer Anna Sokolow; the intensity and clarity of her dances are qualities that describe his dances as well.
In each of the five solos performed (four by Duncan, plus Sokolow's "Preludes"), a carefully drawn character inhabits a particular landscape. "Phases of the Oracle" features Duncan as a prophet seated cross-legged on a stool, mouthing words and directing elaborate hand gestures at an unheeding society. "Antique Epigrams" has him revelling in sunlight, crouching and darting in the night, and extending his palms to catch the rain. "Concerning Elmer Cowley" is a portrait of one of the fists-and-frustration grotesques in Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio." Best of all is "La Mesa del Brujo," in which Duncan, accompanied by Meredith Monk's chants and undulations, uses his pliant eyes and mouth, long legs, and extraordinary hands to suggest a mystical terrain of insects, birds, searing winds and open plains.