Could you share a stage with your spouse? It must take gallons of patience, a superb sense of humor, a collective focus and much love. Ask Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach, or Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, or Mark and Ella Magruder, a charming couple who create and perform dances about hurricanes, domestic spats and assorted other subjects. Their concert Saturday evening at Dance Place was certainly a showcase for their considerable physical and artistic skills, but even more of a celebration of their mutual respect and affection.
Both faculty members of the Drama/Dance Department at the University of Montana at Missoula, the Magruders set up an intriguing contrast. Ella is small and dark, Mark tall and fair. Ella favors a flowing, "natural" approach to movement while Mark delights in well-placed, often high-velocity dancing. She makes predominantly abstract pieces about space and sky ("Cloud Shadow") or unnamed, merciless forces ("Stones"); he works with more concrete, theatrical images -- Indian rituals ("Timeago"), Death and the Maiden ("Thanatos") -- and self-generated sound: breaths, shouts, humming. All of these varied ingredients result in a cascade of totally different yet compatible dances, all but one of them duets.
The Magruders take risks, frequently veering dangerously close to melodrama or cutesydom. Each time, however, a startling gesture or goofy prank leaves them in the clear. Take Mark's Indian piece, for example: just when one begins to tire of the symbolic deer skull, the image reappears in a wonderful new form -- Ella's feet and legs assuming antler shapes above Mark's head. Or consider the finale, a trio of lightweight numbers done to piano rags by Eurreal Montgomery. What saves the Magruders on this occasion is the fact that they make their costume changes in full view of the audience (don't worry, it's only their shoes, hats and vests), and tap a comic wellspring from this gimmick. By the time they take their bows, the Magruders have endeared themselves to all.