Last night the Pennsylvania Ballet introduced a third and final program for its week-long run at the Kennedy Center Opera House. It was, by its nature, the riskiest of the lot, and one couldn't help but admire the moxie and initiative behind it even though the daring paid off, at best, only partially.
The fare consisted of portions of a still more ambitious program devised earlier in the company's season under the rubric, "In Celebration of Women Choreographers," with selections running from pieces by Isadora Duncan and Doris Humphrey to others representative of contemporary practice. The Kennedy Center version confines itself to current modes--the three choreographers sampled are Loyce Houlton, artistic director of the widely esteemed Minnesota Dance Theater; Senta Driver, a bold-spirited modern who runs a New York company called "Harry," seen to fine advantage earlier this year in the Dance America series here, and Margo Sappington, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer turned free-lance choreographer. Houlton's "Galaxies" and Sappington's "Under the Sun" were created expressly for the Pennsylvania troupe; Driver's "Resettings," made for the North Carolina Dance Theater, was acquired by the Pennsylvanians last year.
For the dancers, the program was an extreme challenge in its stylistic diversification and, at times, its remoteness from the classical idiom that is the Pennsylvanians' base. The troupe acquitted itself, however--as it has throughout the engagement thus far--with great distinction, in performances notable for clarity, strength and conviction.
The dancing was good enough, in fact, to veil some of the weaknesses of the evening's choreography, but it was beyond the company's power to hide the shortcomings entirely. Driver's "Resettings" proved by far the most compelling work of the three, and it's by no means a complete success. The piece, like much of Driver's work, often exasperates with a streak of what appears to be deliberate obscurantism. It also seems, at first sight anyway, to be defiantly scattered in form; no unifying thread is discernible, and the title only adds to the enigma.
On the other hand, the choreography is chockablock with arresting ideas, striking imagery and original, provocative movement--in the end, these attributes prevail over the frustrations. The work opens with a diagonal lineup of dancers in jumpsuits, and they are vaguely humming. The lineup recurs as a varied motif, and the humming later turns to grunts and exclamations. In between there are spins, shoves, foot-tappings, arm danglings, pushings, slidings, casual bumpings, throat clutchings, bizarre group lifts, and an amazing assortment of ensemble configurations. Most of this has no musical accompaniment, but at one point, the orchestra launches into some Purcell--"Dido's Lament," used earlier by Driver in a 1976 opus called "Second Generation" (this may be where the notion of "resettings" comes in). It's hard to say what it all adds up to, but it's never dull and clearly the work of a lively dance intelligence.
The other two works would scarcely profit from extended analysis. Houlton's "Galaxies" is a seemingly interminable ooze of snaky twistings and extensions a la Tetley, as pointlessly meandering as the sludgy, overripe Schoenberg "Kamnmersymphonie" to which it is set. Sappington's "Under the Sun," inspired by the art work of Alexander Calder, dabbles tediously in theatrical illusion, alluding to Calder but never enhancing or illuminating his vision choreographically.