Given the relatively high failure rate of artistic experimentation, one would hope that even the tiniest spark of creative vision might be fanned into a brighter, more illuminating flame. After watching something like "Suburban Conversations," however--the multimedia dance-theater offering by the Two or More Company at Glen Echo yesterday afternoon--one wonders whether some embers aren't too close to ash to be revived at all.
Dancer-choreographer Debra Kanter and musician Teddy Klaus--the husband-and-wife team who constitute Two or More--aren't devoid of talent or purpose. Their work is not, for example, on the level of naive mediocrity that marked "it's gotta be tonight," the improvisation to rock music clumsily performed by Robin Kautz and Melissa Middlebrook as a coda to the afternoon's program. Nor do Kanter and Klaus indulge in the kind of idle recreational romping that's too often passed off as choreographic activity hereabouts.
No, the pair has a modicum of skills in a number of directions, and, in "Suburban Conversations," a well-defined concept. After all that's been done from Ibsen to Laurie Anderson in the way of lambasting middle-class ticky tacky, though, one might have thought newcomers would think twice before tackling the subject again. Klaus and Kanter use a mixture of original music and choreography, slides, video, voice-over audio, and props like Tinkertoys and dollhouses in their three-part performance. The point they try to make is that suburbanites approach life as if they were children playing house, only to find the routines of such existence empty and boring. Aside from the old-hat aspects of the theme, the piece falls into the fatal error of trying to lampoon tedium and vacuity by being tedious and vacant.
The opus is so bland in its musical, visual and choreographic aspects, so lacking in fresh means or insights, that the result is a lethargic monotony more deadly than the one being satirized. One looks in vain for the ironic edge, outrageous exaggeration or revelatory slant that might have lifted this material from its hackneyed groove.
The lesson here is that an idea alone isn't enough--it takes a lot of hard, ruthless self-appraisal between the drawing board and the stage for a thought or feeling to crystallize into a viable work of art.