Although Maida Withers' new "Families are Forever" is about ties that chafe as well as bind, it has a gently reassuring tone. "Families," given its Washington premiere last night by the Dance Construction Company at George Washington University's Marvin Center Theatre, is a dance in four parts that, with the help of slides and an occasional voice-over accompaniment, comments upon both the benign and restricting influences of family structure and heritage.
The dance begins with the play of two little boys interrupted by the entrance of two men who are at once calm and threatening. In Part II, for three women and two men, Withers has ingeniously constructed the dancers' movements to be in unison but with individual variation so that the dancers have, if you will, a family resemblance to each other. Slides of printed cliche's motivate the dancers to stop for a moment to pose and comment, by facial expression or stance, on how we feel when we hear such banalities as "You have your father's nose."
The most intriguing choreography occurs in the third section where two couples, intertwined like seaweed, explore endless variations on the theme of partnering. The partnering is physically gentle--one never fears for the safety of the dancers--but often with a gestural undercurrent of malice. A cuddle melds into a stranglehold, a back offered for support jerks into a springboard. A barely audible recital of someone's family genealogy competes for the audience's attention.
In the final section, Withers dances an unspecifically agonized solo--she could be the mourner or the mournee, or she could be trying to escape from the eagle-eyed gaze of a frighteningly stern forebearer whose photograph is projected behind her--before being enveloped by a comforting group. "Families are Forever" is tightly constructed--it's a dance that always knows where it's going--and was well-performed.
Completing the program was a revised version of Withers' "Stall," performed here to different music (by Bob Boilen) and under the light of a simple, red neon sculpture (by Margery Goldberg). The movement vocabulary of "Stall" is more large-scaled than that of "Families." Although the two central sections--a duet for two men followed by a playful one for two women--are strong, the final section, like families, seems to go on forever