The annual festival at Glen Echo Park's Spanish Ballroom has become one of the liveliest features of summertime dance in Washington, and part of its charm lies in an open-door approach to programming--you can expect, and find, almost anything. This same potluck policy, especially now that the festival offers a double-header almost every Sunday, sometimes makes for odd juxtapositions. Witness yesterday's combination--the Baltimore-based Diane Ramo and Company, puttering around with make-believe and borrowed idioms at a distinctly nonprofessional level, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, the gutsy, original and disquietingly provocative "Seven Dreams and an Awakening" presented by Sally Nash and her Last Minute Wood Company.
Ramo holds a master's degree in dance and has been choreographing since 1976, but her work bespeaks a rather prodigious naivete' about the means and purposes of the art. Yesterday's six pieces displayed influences ranging from Ailey to Tharp. The dancing was inertly stop-and-go, rigid in adherence to musical rhythm but devoid of autonomous pulse or shape. The modest technique of the dancers proved inadequate even to the equally modest demands of the choreography. The performers seemed personable and eager, but the effect was one of amateurish inconsequentiality.
By contrast, the work of Sally Nash, including "Seven Dreams", springs from a disdain for artifice and the desire to explore the bonds between life and dance. Nash has a considerable dance background--Ethel Butler and Pola Nirenska were among her local mentors--but her recent choreography has grown from a conviction that the artistic materials of dance ought to evolve directly from personal experience and daily life, a conviction she shares with dance artists like Anna Halprin and Washington's Liz Lerman, both of whom Nash has worked with in the past. In search of a more naturalistic environment and esthetic, she moved from Washington to Rappahannock County, Va., five years ago, where she recruited the Last Minute Wood Company. Her choreography, as exemplified by "Seven Dreams," unites psychological freedom with formal disciplines--the movement grows from improvisation sessions but is rigorously structured; the dance work receives its impetus from the lives of Nash and her dancers, but it also respects the conventions and devices of the theater.
"Seven Dreams" in particular merges keenly expressionistic movement with a wealth of phantasmagorical imagery. After a "Prelude" showing how dance is distilled from improvisation, the work progresses through phases of nocturnal hallucination, with Nash as the dreamer and six women as her angels and demons-- alienating neighbors and strangers, cold-blooded surgeons, a loved sister, an Evil One representing sexual undertow, and, most grippingly, Nash herself in terrifying effigy. Nash and her sturdy, persuasive troupe made these dreams seem at once harrowing and familiar.