In a way it was refreshing to find that Toni Smith and Dancers, the New York-based troupe that gave the first of three performances at the Washington Project for the Arts last night, was not just another sample of Big Apple post-modernism. On the other hand, what the chamber-size troupe (four dancers plus dancer-choreographer-director Smith) brought us wasn't that different from much Washington-area dance, where stylistic eclecticism is more the rule than the exception.
On the whole, the pleasures of the evening were on the pale side. Here were nicely trained, appealing dancers, smoothly performing works of a pleasant, nostalgic, conventional character, with sporadic touches of bright invention and long stretches of cliche'-ridden material.
Smith, in fact, is from these parts originally--she's a native Arlingtonian who earned a graduate degree in dance at American University, performed with several New York troupes, and then formed her own touring company in the late '70s.
All three of the program's pieces made reference to the past, though the era and atmosphere were different in each case.
"Things Are Comin' My Way"--the opening duet for Smith and the troupe's one male dancer, Keith Michael, set to a blithe country ballad by the Fiction Brothers--is a friskily amorous lark with lots of loose, supported falls, swing-arounds and nonchalant catches, very much in the manner of Dan Wagoner. It has a sweet, affectionate feel to it, but it also looks like dozens of other dances in a similar vein.
The female quartet, "Flour," is almost pure Doris Humphrey in style, wistful and swirling, with "original" music by Laura Schwartz right out of the '30s. "Fast Lane," the most engaging piece, salutes the '50s--the music is Presley; bobby socks, greasy kids' stuff and pop dance motifs are the context. And while Michael convincingly embodies the hip-switching teen-age macho of the Presley mystique, the three women impersonate his mesmerized adolescent idolaters. Bambi Anderson and Denise Mostacci seemed the most fluent and persuasive dancers, here and elsewhere.