Second Stride, the contemporary London troupe seen Tuesday as part of Wolf Trap's Modern Dance Festival, made an even stronger impression the second time around than at first. The rather monochromatic program at the Meadow Center was supplanted at the Dance Place on Thursday night (the second of two performances at this downtown site) by a bill of fare of exceptional diversity and impact. To previously unseen works by co-directors Siobhan Davies and Ian Spink, the troupe added a piece by guest choreographer Richard Alston, who is in residence with Ballet Rambert. Moreover, although the Dance Place performances were "informal," i.e., with minimal lighting and only partially costumed, the remarkable intuitive rapport of the dancers was greatly magnified at such close range. The company, whose members are drawn from some of the finest British troupes specifically to showcase the work of three adventurous choreographers, demonstrated superb subtlety and control, and in these quarters, one felt a part of their intimate circle.
Like Davies and Spink, Alston has studied with Merce Cunningham, and his "Doublework"--a series of interlocking duets with a fine sound score by American composer James Fulkerson--is clearly indebted to the master. All the same, it is no mere copy; its austere linearity is both beautiful and logical in design. The taut, lucid dancing had, however, a curious reserve about it (dare one say, typically British?) that gave the performance an entirely different coloration than a group of American post-moderns might have bestowed on the same material.
Spink's "26 Solos," performed in silence, is a study in histrionic atmosphere, gesture and characterization, something like Ping Chong's surreal theater pieces but with a decided English accent. Three women in semiformal black take turns posing, musing and sporadically dancing in a setting defined by an array of chairs and tables--we can only guess at their private reverie from the wry hints and clues provided, but the piece is consistently absorbing and the portrayals by Juliet Fisher, Betsy Gregory and Michele Smith were exquisitely etched.
Davies' "Carnival," which concluded the program, is an amusing, brilliantly imaginative realization of Saint-Sae ns' "Carnival of the Animals" that has copious charm without a smidgen of preciosity. Philippe Giradeau's bewildered rejected suitor in the "Cuckoo" duet was a special gem, but the entire cast sparkled.