The Jan Taylor Dance Theatre has been a fixture of the Washington scene for nearly a decade, and Taylor still attracts a loyal following. The enthusiastic crowd at the Dance Place Saturday night, on hand for the troupe's program of eight recent Taylor creations, crammed the flexible seating area to utmost capacity.
Taylor's formula doesn't appear to have changed much in the two years since I've seen her work. She still has a penchant for gimmicks -- a supine Ben Watts dragging Taylor along the floor with his legs, for instance, in the opening of one duet. Though she seems never to aim for anything below the surface, she's got enough craft and canniness to make dances that are at least coherent and superficially effective. And her pieces shuttle freely between modern, jazz, ballet and other movement sources.
But almost all the choreography has a synthetic, secondhand look. "Contents Under Pressure," the opening trio, mimicked Robert Rauschenberg's costuming, as well as the gargoylish humor and paw-like hands of choreographer Paul Taylor's "Three Epitaphs." The biomorphic imagery of the duet "Anemone" -- the evening's most skillfully wrought item -- pointed directly to the Pilobolus vogue. "Belmont House" was an Ailey-esque solo on the theme of bondage and abuse. It was hard to tell whether the tackiness of "Going Down Slow," for a trio of miniskirted, net-stockinged belles, was on purpose or not, but in any case it looked like a Motown reject.
And so it went. "Aurora," a quartet to the excruciatingly gloppy music of Jean-Michel Jarre, was "Flashdance" minus the flash. Both "What the Hand Dare Seize the Fire?," the ballroomish duet for Watts and Taylor, and the final "Slippery People," for three militant couples in battle fatigues, owed much conceptually to Twyla Tharp, without rivaling the latter's powers of invention.
Only "Who's There," a brief, questing solo for Laura Crowne, had no obvious model, and it benefited from the spark and suavity of Crowne's dancing. Otherwise, the performances throughout the program ranged erratically from skilled to slapdash. If Jan Taylor is expert at anything, it's at making choreographic rhinestones.