The immediate and overriding impression left by dancer Susan Alexander and her collaborator, filmmaker David Robinson, in their joint presentation at the Dance Place this past weekend, was one of spirited virtuosity--anatomical, filmic and mental. In a program titled "Moving Bodies/Moving Pictures" the New York-based pair, who have been working together since 1976, traversed five solo dances, four short films and two dance-film collaborations, all of them gleaming with a veneer of sleek, ingenious expertise.
At the same time, one had an uneasy feeling that what one saw was somewhat less than met the eye--that the choreographic and cinematic cores beneath the pat surfaces were a good deal leaner than the scintillating performances suggested. It wasn't a matter of deliberate deception; it was just that Alexander's seductive dance technique and Robinson's equal skill within his own medium seemed ultimately more compelling than any of the rather inbred, limited works to which they were applied. The dancer overshadowed the dance, and the camera its targeted subjects.
You don't have to have a beautiful body to be a beautiful dancer, but it never hurts, and in Alexander's case, it was impossible to overlook as a factor. Her small, compact, sinewy, perfectly sculpted figure, revealed in costumes ranging from unitards to nothing at all, blended into an impeccable harmony with her movement, which was like spilling nectar--all smoothness of flow and texture. But the five solos she chose--by Keith Young, Lynn Dally, Mel Wong, Santa Aloi and Ruth Barnes--looked more or less like clones of one another, chic post-modern abstractions descended from Cunningham, perhaps through Tharp and Wiener, playful, cool and clever but tissue-thin in content.
Similarly, there seemed more method than matter to Robinson's brief, acutely cut films--two whimsical minimalist studies, one of jumping feet, one of faces; an Eames-like essay on objects and textures; and a flip, quasi-political satire featuring Alexander, a flag, and Souza's "Stars and Stripes."
The most persuasive items on the program were those that gave freest rein to the silky facility of the duo: among the dance pieces, Wong's "Countdown," with its gestural and rhythmic variety, and Aloi's "Stream," a rising tide of sensual twists and stretches; and of the two Alexander-Robinson collaborations, the more recent "Dead Skin," which has Alexander emerging from under a mobile white sheet (which doubles as a movie screen) into a nude, sarape-twirling solo in counterpoint with her own projected image.