There's nothing puzzling anymore about Greg Reynolds' dances. He has clarified his intentions, as "The Passion According to Mary" shows. Five years ago it was difficult to tell whether this work was about Christ crucified or Abel slain by his brother. The staging was oppressively static. Reynolds' choreography gave the impression he couldn't shatter the stained glass Gothic poses that had inspired the piece.
In the current edition of "The Passion," Reynolds has pared down the characters to two, himself as the Christ figure and Betsey Beckman as the Mother. As the storyteller, she moves more than he in his passion, yet she too is subject to a certain constriction in order to convey an image of his state. The 1940ish costuming sets the action in a working-class but not poor world--these are union folk--that is far more pertinent than the "biblical" milieu of the garb that used to be worn.
Last night's program at Washington Project for the Arts (to be repeated tomorrow at 3 p.m.) opened with Reynolds' "Quintet," a company warm-up piece which is aptly accompanied by the Pachelbel canon. "Down Home" started as a romp for two formally clad couples who imitate string quartet players and quadrille dancers. As the proceedings become bawdy, the performers begin to behave like cockerels and hens, but they regain human manners in time for Charles Ives' briskly romantic first quartet to rush to its end. Also performed was Philip Grosser's "Three (Stravinsky) Dances," an athlete-as-priest solo for the company's strongest technician, Geoff Harrison, and Reynolds' new "Essence."
"Essence" takes pure movement quite purposely to points of awkwardness, embarrassment and beyond. Reynolds is the central figure who crawls on the floor to Bach but makes the motion musical. He is partner to David Homles in combative tenderness on a Telemann score, and to Vivaldi he balances in skewed poses as Lisa Foehr and Beckman answer him with emphatic actions. The piece probably is Greg Reynolds' tribute to and takeoff on his mentors and models. The finale, to Marais' music, is perfunctory and weakens the work.