The easiest thing would be to pass over as unworthy of serious attention last night's tedious, embarrassingly amateurish-looking performance by Greg Reynolds and Company at Baird Auditorium.
But circumstances argue against such curt dismissal. For one thing, this was the opening event in the second season of the "Smithsonian Salutes Washington Dance" series. For another, there is Reynolds' history. He's a native Washingtonian, whose early dance studies here were with distinguished pedagogues, and he went on to earn a degree at Sarah Lawrence under the highly respected Bessie Schonberg. From 1973 to 1976, Reynolds was a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, an outstanding modern dance troupe. It was at this point that he formed his own company, which made its debut on tour in the Soviet Union, and relocated in Washington.
Since then, he and his troupe have performed widely across the country and locally in schools, community centers and theatrical settings. Reynolds also served a recent term as a member of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Surely Reynolds must believe fervently in what he's doing, to have persisted this long in the face of so little demonstrated ability as a choreographer. He's always had his adherents, though there appeared to be scarcely more than 60 or so in last night's patient, receptive audience. But he may be having some second thoughts of his own at this point -- Reynolds has announced that he's giving up his company for now, and going abroad to study mime for a few years, after which he plans to return here and resume his dance activities.
The Baird program suggested there may be wisdom in this decision. Reynolds has never lacked thematic ambition -- among his earlier efforts was "Homage to the Universe," and more recently, a work combining Milton's poetry and Handel's "Messiah."
Last night the magnum opus was a seven-part, hour-long fabrication called "Washingtoniana," described as "A biography of the City of Washington -- its people, its architecture, its politics." As a framing device, Patrick Scully impersonated a Tourmobile guide, reading a sophomorically facetious script about Washington landmarks, history and customs. Slides of Washington sites were projected on a cloth hung at the side. The stage was ringed with potted flowers and trees.
The first section, "Western Plaza," had a female performer as a park statue come to life, startling the passersby. The second dealt with Thomas Circle and its habitue's, including hookers; the third, obliquely, with city politicking; the fourth with the Federal Triangle and the balance of governmental powers (three figures squabbling and making up); the fifth, in a sanctimoniously symbolic fashion, with war veterans. The sixth part -- a "dream" of two children aboard Metro, had Reynolds dressed as a farecard machine. The finale was again symbolic -- three women in togas as Hope, Justice and Columbia, and four dancers in red, white, blue and bronze as "We, the People."
On paper, this may sound like a reasonable, even promising project, and in other hands -- who knows? -- it might have proven so. But Reynolds' piece was a mishmash of party charades, simplistic pantomime and inept dancing in a watered-down version of Paul Taylor's idiom. Reynolds also chose music Taylor had used (in a more comprehensible context) -- Beethoven's Op. 130 and 133 (the "Grosse Fuge") String Quartets. The whole thing seemed unredeemably ramshackle, as did the evening's two earlier, more heavily pretentious Reynolds standbys, "Ages" and "The Passion According to Mary." Only by a very charitable stretching of terms could any of this be regarded as choreographic art.