Whether it's a healthy cross-fertilization or an invidious reciprocal pollution is still a matter of debate in dance circles, but just as modern dance has influenced ballet choreographers for decades, now the influence is going the other way. Audiences who have grown accustomed to seeing dancers do contractions on point or end a grand jete' with a roll on the floor now have to acclimate themselves to arabesques ending in a flat foot and tours en l'air punctuating a flowing modern dance sequence for no apparent reason.
Laura Crowne's "Intimate Pages," which received its premiere Saturday night at Dance Place, looks like an unshod ballet, partly because it's set to Leos Janacek's string quartet of the same name, and partly because we think "ballet" when we see girls wafting round wearing floating skirts. The dance is easy to watch and the audience loved it. "Intimate Pages" combines the modern dance sense of weight--the movement is ground-rooted with lots of stamping--with a balletic ease of carriage and sense of flight.
Structurally, it's a solid work. Crowne's musicality is respectful and the dance churns along driven by an irrevocable internal logic. The patterns are interesting, the entrances and exits well-controlled; the dance builds. But there's more to a good dance than good structure. Although dancers don't have to mime death by cyanide poisoning whenever the music shifts to a minor key, they should respond to the music in some way, and at least act as if they know each other. Dance doesn't have to have a plot, but it should have a pretext, and "Intimate Pages" is basically a suite of dances set on top of music. It's a picture without a frame.
The program's other premiere, Crowne's "Saga," was a slight and odd duet which owed more to its costumes than its choreography. Better was Crowne's 1978 "Night Water," one of the few dances based on a gimmick that works. Performed under blackout conditions, the black-clad dancers oozed around the stage, their faces eerily illuminated by the red flame of flashlights.
Another success was Crowne's "Continuum," originally danced by two women, which was transformed into a totally different work when danced by Crowne and Don Zuckerman. Not only was there a sense of "relationship" and sex, but the difference in the size of the dancers changed the dance from one of twins scrolling a continuous line to one of one dancer--Zuckerman--carving an outline in space filled in by Crowne.