The appearance of Jan Van Dyke and Dancers at the Dance Place this past weekend was a homecoming for Van Dyke: She not only grew up here, but was for many years a leading figure on Washington's dance scene, as a choreographer, performer, teacher, impresario and spokeswoman. The Dance Place itself is a successor to the Dance Project, the performance and study center she founded nearly a decade ago. For the past year or so she's lived in New York City, continuing her creative work and teaching there.
For the audience, the Dance Place concert was both a welcoming festivity and a refresher course in the ever-questing intelligence that has marked Van Dyke's choreography. Now 41, Van Dyke has been making dances since the mid-'60s, traversing a variety of modes, from autobiographical reverie to surrealist theater dance to rigorous structural e'tudes. Over the long haul, her work has gravitated between opposing poles--dramatic and expressive on one side, formal and abstract on the other.
Over the past several seasons, Van Dyke has seemed committed to the formal, architectural concerns that dominate much of what's called "post-modern" choreography across the land. In particular, her recent pieces demonstrate a strong addiction to repetitive patterning, surely one of the leitmotifs of today's dance. All four works--two of them premieres--on the weekend program were spare, minimal, pattern dances, relying on a restricted repertoire of movement modules, supported musically by iterative rhythms, carving space into distinctly geometric configurations.
There's never any lack of compositional ingenuity or sophistication in Van Dyke's work, but the resulting conceptions don't always sum up to convincing artistic wholes. "Double Time," a 1980 opus to music by Brian Eno, was by far the most persuasive offering, partly because it is a solo for Van Dyke, and she brings both charisma and control to her execution that the other five troupe members only approximate. A further reason is the intriguing contrast between the distant, cosmic drift of Eno's score and the meticulous shifts of accent, shape and tempo which Van Dyke's solo entails.
The new ensemble pieces--"Reflex," for five dancers and in silence, and "Fours," for four dancers to pulse music by Tom Pile--are almost like twins. Both works feature initial and closing diagonal lineups, with various kinds of dispersal and regrouping in between, and both are obsessively mathematical in construction. "Reflex," with its mirrored wall and complex light plot by William DeMull, is more atmospherically focused, but neither has movement of sufficient quality or invention to entirely sustain its length. "2 Dances in 1 Space," performed here as a duet, had more impact in its original form for nine dancers (in 1979 at the Corcoran Gallery).
Van Dyke has chosen a difficult path, and so far has stuck to it unwaveringly. It will be interesting to see where she takes it from here; a move to California, said to be in the offing, may alter the equation in unforseeable ways.