The choice used to be more difficult--should the aspiring dancer be nurtured in the comfort of a college campus or in the grime and glamor of the real theater? Now, for modern dance, there is no dilemma. Campuses have become theaters. They provide the most faithful audiences for touring companies, a home base for small professional groups, and--as seen here in the National College Dance Festival that ended last night--the bulk of new performers and choreographers.
Culminating four days of workshops, master classes, meetings and talk in the corridors was yesterday's gala performance at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. It featured nine works, the best from more than 100 that had been auditioned during the past year at campuses throughout the country. The judges were dancer-choreographers Senta Driver, Loyce Houlton and Clive Thompson.
The chosen pieces showed that traditional dance steps, the thematic development of movement, and musicality in the western classical tradition are minority interests on the campus today. Athletic motion and thematic reiteration predominate. The sound spectrum includes electronic music, pop, third stream and talk. This is certainly a change from the college dance recital of a decade ago.
Kate Trammell, in her "Stolen Goods," sent James Madison University's women dancers onto a dimly-lit Terrace stage looking like zombies. The eeriness dissolved as the stage lights became bright. The cast, dressed in bandages and rags, now looked like a gaggle of young bag ladies. Their zonked motions were on the cute side, but did not become cloying because the piece was over a couple of minutes after it began.
Another work for women, George Mason University's "Signals . . . 9th Inning, 4th Down" by Claudia Murphey, seemed long but was pure in its use of athletic movement. As slow motion in limited space was replaced by energetic, wide-ranging movement, the sports source of the choreographic material became apparent in slides to base and pitching wind-ups.
Three men from Rhode Island College, in Suzette Hutchinson's "Transmutations," seemed clones of Pilobolus and Mummenschanz as they slithered like amphibian creatures and assumed decorative acrobatic groupings. A coed team from the University of Texas at Austin played games with poles and succeeded in building a "Construct"; architecture and choreography were by Layne Sayles. A squadron of dancers from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts were jacks-in-the-box in Bill T. Jones' episodic "Corporate Whimsey."
Mark Dendy's solo "Innerface . . ." was remarkable as performance and choreography. It shows the education of a young man whose sole source of reading is the popular press. Dendy's reaction to the world of glamor and passion was shown in an unusually wide range of movement. The diversity, however, had stylistic consistency. There were original motions, especially for the hands behind the back. Despite the narcissism of the character, he had charm. The choreographer knew himself intimately as performer. No wonder the judges awarded Dendy, student at North Carolina School of the Arts, the first prize as new choreographer.
Rene' Olivas Gubernick's "Peyote Hunting Dreams" solo was not as rich as Dendy's. Yet the image of trance and mission created by UCLA's Gubernick was haunting.
Roger Williams College presented "Over and Beyond," a theater piece full of clowning, circus stunts, and serious questions. It earned laughter and deserved pondering, too. For those who craved recognizable dance steps, an organically evolved form and emotional catharsis, Clay Taliaferro's "The Gleaning" (to music by Egberto Gismonti), was a great satisfaction. Well-performed by Jim Glenn and colleagues from the University of Utah, it was a subtly built drama of desire and control tic dance that deserves repertory status.
Elaine Wright won the festival's dance technique prize. She showed her strength, clarity and good proportions in "Corporate Whimsey."