"We want to dedicate this performance to the memory of George Balanchine, though we don't dance in the Balanchine way," Frances Smith Cohen announced last night at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, where her Center Dance Company is based. Indeed, the seminal choreographers from whom the program derived were Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Jose Limon and, perhaps, Hannah Kahn.
The Duncan allusion is part of the point of Cohen's "A Time Remembered." Childhood innocence is conveyed through the simplicity of early modern dance as a dozen little girls, in tunics like Duncan's own adopted Isadorables, skip and recline, and weave their arms to the strains of Chopin (with Isiah Johnson at the piano). They dance against the green silhouettes of trees. The passage to maturity is illustrated by a girl on the verge of adulthood who is guided by three women. These three figures in their pliant blue dresses suggest by their lyricism that they are the graces. The girl, danced with a fresh air by Lisa Shriver, gradually joins them as an equal. Yet, when she departs, the women become stooped. Perhaps they are supposed to be the three fates.
The genuine charm of Cohen's ideas in this work might have been enhanced by a richer dance texture. However, in her other piece, the idea of doing "Carmen" as if it were Limon's Othello quartet, "The Moor's Pavane," is misbegotten. Shakespeare's people sustain probing beneath the surface. What the Me'rime'e-derived characters feel is seen clearly on the surface. Analysis is redundant. The choreographer does capture Micaela's tender love for Don Jose in a duet for Janet Beller and the agile Geoffrey Harrison. But Shelley Chaffin North as Carmen should have been provided with virtuoso movement to match the Bizet music. Escamillo, danced by Glenn Greene, sometimes got in the way of the action.
The Graham cult was evoked and demolished in Ethel Butler's "Splintered Pulse," premiered earlier in the season. Daniel West's "Cellobach" paraphrased its J.S. Bach music in two ways. There were arm positions and body angles that provided a counterpoint to the steps, rather than an accompaniment. This seemed to be the Hannah Kahn aspect of the work. In addition, West used Art Deco group formations--geometric at first, but ending skewed--for North and four other women whom Beth Burkhardt has dressed in orange harem pants and torso girdles banded in blue to add another Art Deco touch.
The most original work on the program was Meriam Rosen's "Unfinished Business," performed by guests from Improvisations Unlimited. On a dark stage, to Charlie Trapp's ominous soundscape, three pairs of dancers make movement that is not what it seems. Helping gestures are lethal. Love is rejection. A run to the right is pulled to the left. Dancing can lie as well as words can.