Old-fashioned modern dance, politically committed and with faith in the significance of form, is a rarity here these days. Last night, one could catch a glimpse of this endangered species when the Rod Rodgers Company made a single appearance at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, Md.
All the choreography was by Rodgers. In the oldest piece on the program, "Box '7l," two men--a prisoner behind bars and a man in a business suit who stands in front--are the sole characters. The prisoner suffers agony. His body is cramped or stretched to the breaking point. The man in front seems to be at ease and waiting. Gradually, though, he becomes impatient, a little nervous, and a few of his motions resemble those of the prisoner in agony. Suddenly, he finds himself boxed in by invisible bars. He can't quite believe his predicament, but soon he suffers the same tortures and deaths as the other man. He tries to be calm once more but finds he can't escape.
Rodgers, as the middle-aged man in front, and Derek Clark, his young doppelga nger, built the tension in fine increments. The resulting sense of development made this movement mime-work unique. The other pieces on the bill, however, seemed not to grow beyond the first images.
"To the Victims" also dealt with the power of pain to transform pleasant movement. Gina Ellis' wracked motions infect the lyricism of two other women, Evelyn Lee Gray and Tamara Guillebeaux, and all three must pay homage to Clark as the death figure. The symbolism, made explicit in slides and narration dealing with nuclear war, and the choreography, which shuttled the dancers back and forth across a tight space at the same dynamic levels, became repetitious.
Spatial and dynamic restrictions, more than the limited step vocabulary, also made "Dream Variations" (based on images from Langston Hughes' poetry) and much of "Ictus" (a group work with tribal flavor to a percussion score by Rodgers) seem overly long. However, an expansion of the dance energy rescued "Ictus" at the very end. In "Cameos of Women," a solo for Guillebeaux, there was not enough contrast within the staid and the free sections.
The Weinberg Center was unusually empty for this performance, due undoubtedly to the rainy weather, police warnings of gas leaks in downtown Frederick and the last-minute rush to file taxes.