THINK "DANCER," and what do you envision? A young, pale, nearly anorexic woman in a gossamer gown, right?
Certainly those types exist, but dig a little deeper, and you'll find this city full of very different types, all of them involved with dance in inventive and, in certain cases, exceptional ways. All of them have personal artistic visions. And all of them share a determination that makes them impervious to low wages, frequent injuries, conservative or undemonstrative audiences and negative criticism. At least most of the time.
Herewith a glimpse into the workings of six very different area companies. SHARON WYRRICK AND FULL CIRCLE "People have been looking at modern dance for so long and saying, 'I don't get it,' and I want them to get it!" says Sharon Wyrrick, the guiding light behind the inventive seven-member troupe known as Full Circle. So, recently this petite beauty has turned to more concrete choreographic concerns: characters, storytelling and humor.
In last year's "Home Suite," for example, Wyrrick examined the notion of what the word "home" connotes to each of us. A whole parlor, complete with slippers and teddy bear, appeared in one section; and, in another, a farmer straight out of American Gothic stood rock-solid on his land. Right now she's at work on "Old New Borrowed Blue Me You," a 12-part dance that deals with male/female relationships in romantic, lyrical and sour ways. Music plays an integral part: Two contrasting versions of a song (Nat King Cole and Lene Lovich's takes on "Walking My Baby Back Home," and "Wild Is the Wind" by both Johnny Mathis and David Bowie) add commentary.
Wyrrick, part-time waitress and mother of a teenage son, has her ups and down. "I spend so much time on logistics, like all of us dancers do," she sighs. "I'm happy when I'm in the studio."
FULL CIRCLE -- Performs March 1 and 2 at the Dance Place. Call 462-1321. ARTIS BRIENZO AND THE TAP QUARTET The Tap Quartet, this city's newest dance ensemble, made its debut three weeks ago at D.C. Space, as a backup for hoofer extraordinaire Brenda Bufalino. Artis Brienzo, founder of the quartet, was blown away by Bufalino's hard-driving riffs.
"I felt like this teenager sitting there with her before the show," she remembers. "That's the kind of dancing I dream about doing. But you know, there's a limited audience for that sort of tap. People want '42nd Street,' but '42nd Street' and that cutesy, Shirley Temple style is not what I think tap should be." Forget the top hats and canes.
Brienzo spent her childhood in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, taking baton twirling, tap and acrobatics from a former Rockette, and her college years studying modern dance. She's hooked on jazz and rhythm, pure and hot. She and the three other members of the quartet -- Dan Sherbo, Holly Wydra and the currently-very-pregnant Monice Sanders -- have thus far danced to the music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, and are working out steps Monk and Mingus.
"What we're really hoping for eventually is live music," Brienzo says. "Luckily, my boyfriend is Bill Harris (a jazz pianist currently working at Fourways Restaurant). Once we get going with his sounds, we'll really be set."
TAP QUARTET -- Performs March 22 and 23 at D.C. Space. Call David Ingalls at 393-7432. RODFORCE What is performance art, anyway? Is it theater? Dance? Visual art come to life?
Attend any performance event masterminded by Sherman Fleming, aka Rodforce, and the odds are you still won't know. But your curiosity will definitely be aroused by his riveting stage presence and audacious imagination. In past appearances, he's danced ballroom-style wearing a tuxedo and army boots with miniature bowling balls attached; stood motionless within an intricately constructed wooden assemblage and then splintered it simply by moving; and worked with a group of teenage girls on a cheering and double-dutch jump-roping piece.
"What I'm doing now is storytelling," says Fleming, a quiet man who makes his living as assistant director of the Montpelier Cultural Art Center. His latest performance, "City of Monuments," consists of "three stories, handmade slides, paper toys that I make and a soundtrack of my father's voice. Though there is movement and gesture in it, it's not really dance."
How have spectators responded to his work? "Each of us has our small group of fans," he says, "but critical response runs hot and cold. Around l981 and '82, critics were interested, and questioning things, but now . . ."
RODFORCE AND GENERATOR EXCHANGE -- Perform April 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Library, Room A51, and will participate in the Corcoran Area Show in May. Call 387-0796 or 953-1993. THE PRIMARY MOVERS "Some of my children have become beautiful young women!" Rima Wolff, founder and director of The Primary Movers, a most unusual children's dance company, is both lamenting and celebrating the fact that some of the troupe's longtime members have had to be replaced by rookie dancers. Wolff -- herself the mother of two teen-age daughters -- often finds herself playing the role of modern-dance mama to the 11 girls and lone fellow in her energetic ensemble.
"I've been teaching children since I was 17," says Wolff, a youthful 40-year-old who got her dance training at the Martha Graham School and Bennington College. "And I've always tried to combine developmental work with dance." The result has been such works as "The Wild Things" -- in which The Primary Movers talk and dance about their personal fears: monsters, spirits, you name it -- or "Turning," a piece about violence, death and the need for peace.
In its four years, the company has served a creative purpose and a therapeutic one, in some cases. "I work with certain kids who have problems in school but are brilliant dancers," explains Wolff. "Excelling in The Primary Movers has saved their self-image."
THE PRIMARY MOVERS -- Perform on March 8 at noon at the Martin Luther King Library. Call 722-4551 or 652-4446. MARYLAND DANCE THEATER Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m., Larry Warren, University of Maryland professor and artistic director of Maryland Dance Theater, could be found salvaging frozen costumes from a pile of ashes. A fire -- the second in a little over a year -- had hit part of the university's makeshift dance building, and Warren, an inveterate worrier, had one more thing to worry about.
"I feel -- what's the word? -- beleaguered," he sighed. "The company has just suffered a serious cutback in support from the Maryland State Arts Council. How can we get through the year? We've already made our financial commitments to the dancers and choreographers."
Despite the fire and the fundraising blues, Warren is upbeat when it comes to artistic matters. Just back from a troupe trip to Allentown, Pennsylvania, he's still talking about the excitement it generated: "They had our name flashing on a building downtown, right up there with the time and the temperature." The troupe's upcoming appearance at the university's Tawes Theater, he feels, should be first-rate; the program will include Daniel West's neurotic "Agitation," Anne Warren's silken "Simple Symphony" and Warren's own caustic "Party Game."
Though he's just won a semester off to research a book, he can't imagine handing over the reins: "I want that aura of professionalism and quality to continue. We have not only ourselves, but the whole modern dance tradition to uphold."
MARYLAND DANCE THEATER -- Performs March 30 at 8 p.m. at Tawes theater, and on May 10 at Montgomery College. Call 454-3399. DANCERS OF THE THIRD AGE "We've got a new piece cooking," says Don Zuckerman, assistant director of Dancers of the Third Age. "It's a take-off on '42nd Street,' in which the star, Miss Vee Hollenbeck, injures herself and a young chorine, Cecilia Barnes, is plucked from the chorus to replace her." The twist is that Hollenbeck and Barnes are, respectively, 84 and 79 years old.
Dancers of the Third Age, an outgrowth of Liz Lerman's Dance Exchange, is this country's only troupe of senior citizens performing modern dance on a regular basis. It consists of eight veteran performers, five "apprentices" who participate in rehearsals but have yet to master the repertoire, and five considerably younger dancers -- meaning 25 to 35 -- who appear in several works. Pieces range from a wild demonstration of "Ballin' the Jack" to a hilarious parody of "Swan Lake."
The company, which performs about once a week, has just returned from 21/2 weeks in Toledo. "We did a residency at a studio called The Common Space," explains Zuckerman. "They already have one dance company there, but they wanted us to help them start a senior troupe."
DANCERS OF THE THIRD AGE -- Perform March 22 at 8 p.m. with The Dance Exchange Performing Company at Baird Auditorium, Natural History Museum. Call 229-8036.