If there were rafters in the Dance Place, they would have been hanging from them, as CODA (Contemporary Dancers of Alexandria) drew one of the studio's largest turnouts ever for the troupe's two appearances there this past weekend.
There's good reason for CODA's sturdy following. Under the leadership of Ellen Gray Denker this past year, the troupe has evolved into one of the area's leading modern dance ensembles. The company now includes some of the city's best-trained, most polished dancers, like Denker herself, Donna Brandenburg and Linda Garner Jahnke, and the overall level of execution is enviably high. In addition, CODA's repertoire has been buttressed by the acquisition of work by many of Washington's most gifted and able choreographers.
Much of the Dance Place program had been seen and reviewed recently at CODA's home theater in Lee Center, Alexandria, a high school proscenium stage quite different in atmosphere and configuration from the Dance Place, where the audience huddles at the edge of a deep, flat-floor performing space. Seeing the dancers at such close range Saturday night was more revealing of technical blemishes than Lee Center, with its distanced view, tends to be, and in general the troupe wasn't at its sharpest on this occasion.
On the other hand, there was a compensating gain in immediacy from the spectators' sheer proximity to the action. There were also some notable individual performances, from Denker, for instance, whose detailed pathways in Nancy Galeota's impressionistic "Flail" solo seemed to be lined with butter.
Besides "Flail" the evening's other familiar material included Martha Brim's satirically wistful "Faded Love," to the country singing of Patsy Cline, and Daniel West's grimly incisive "Medium Red," with its steely articulation and combat zone tensions--still the most compelling of CODA's present holdings.
Among two additions to the repertory, the premiere of Cathy Paine's "Together Again," danced to a pair of Thelonious Monk pieces and funded by a grant from the Virginia Commission on the Arts, proved to be a mild, rather playful study in groupings, linkings and breakaway solos for five women. It was refreshing to see choreography from a jazz master who doesn't rely on jazz dance cliche's, and the piece has both Paine's customary limpid flow and some neat contrapuntal invention. On the whole, though, this seems one of Paine's lesser efforts, tepid in effect and somewhat underenergized in feeling.
The second novelty was a reconstruction of Sharon Wyrrick's "Lullaby," first presented at American University in 1979 while the choreographer was a graduate student there, and restaged for CODA with a donation from Lois Kelso Hunt. Dedicated to the memory of Wyrrick's mother, the work has a central, plaintive figure (the mother, expressively danced by Jahnke), a trio representing anguished daughters, and a chorus of seven who act as mourners and angels of death. The piece, with its distinctively Humphreyesque look, clearly foreshadows Wyrrick's more recent command of ensemble structure, clarity of purpose and emotional spontaneity. Still, it's also plainly a derivative, rather academically schematic work. For a choreographer still on the threshold of artistic maturity, however promising Wyrrick assuredly is, one can't help but wonder whether the funds might have been better spent supporting a new creative venture.