David Appel is a mesmerizing performer. Tiny, with the woebegone face of a clown, he specializes in contrasting dynamics, alternating extremes of speed with calculated control.
Of the five pieces Appel presented at the Dance Place last night, the two best were solos. "Inside Out," in which Appel talks about esthetic theory and the artist's responsibility to society while incessantly repeating the work's basic movement phrase, could be terrible. It's not, partly because Appel seems genuinely interested in sharing his ideas rather than haranguing his audience, but mostly because it's so fascinating to watch how he controls his body. Whether going from standing to squatting so slowly that the transition is almost imperceptible, or dashing about so quickly that his feet seem to avoid the floor, everything Appel does has a snapshot clarity.
"Taking Shape" shows the development of a movement theme for arms. Appel creates, erases, then creates again shapes in the air, as if drawing on an imaginary blackboard. Each image is clear without ever being abrupt. Appel dances like a mime; at times in "Taking Shape," he looks like a juggler without oranges.
Appel creates more happily for himself than for others. "Swing Shift" favors his tautness and speed so much that it makes even good dancers like Alison Bell and Coni Pena seem sluggish. Neither this work, nor the other trio, "Assateague," has much point, as if Appel loses interest when working with bodies and styles other than his own.