Imagine a bunch of attractive, postadolescent kids in an aerobics class bursting into a marathon fantasy brewed from horror movies, amusement park attractions and rock videos, and you've got some notion of what Charles Moulton's "Triplet Chainsaw Adventure" was like.
The teeth was the flamboyant finale -- one of three new works -- on Saturday night's program by the Charles Moulton Dance Company at George Mason University's Harris Theatre, where the troupe was making its Washington area debut. It's a good example of the peppy, high-velocity, accessible brand of Post-Modernism Moulton traffics in. As such, the work is also a demonstration of Moulton's methodology and esthetic focus, as well as the self-imposed limitations of his choreography.
Moulton himself has likened "Triplet Chainsaw Adventure" to a "13-minute trailer for a TV adventure series." It's got an effective score by Scott Johnson that uses a big-band sound with a pumping disco beat and jazzy syncopations and ultimately falls -- like most of the music Moulton chooses -- somewhere between art rock and trendy minimalism. The cast comprises three women and three men, including Moulton, with the women in shorts or tight toreadors, the men in warmup suits, and all in running shoes. At the start, the six are lined up in threes by gender and the nonstop action moves from symmetrical groupings in rows or circles to assymetric dispersals across the stage and back again.
There are karate jabs and lunges. Couples with linked hands trot, spin and dip. Sporadically, the dancers shout out things like "Yah!," "Yo!" and "All right!" (it's Moulton's first use of live vocals). Toward midpoint, the light goes sinister red; Moulton yells "freeze!," points a "loaded" finger at the others, "shoots" and gaffaws as they topple. Then it's turnabout -- they scramble up, encircle and clobber him, yakking as he goes down.
The men push the scooting women from behind like bumper cars. One woman rides horseback on her partner. All the dancers crank their arms and legs in a locomotive chain. Several crouch into monkey posture and do a simian prowl. The red light returns with more mock mayhem and screams of "Oh, my God!," "Run for your life!" and "Help!" All this material, visual and aural, permutes and recirculates in a kind of giddy but geometrically patterned flux.
It's virtually irresistible stuff, especially as delivered by Moulton and his trim, dynamic crew of dancers. The other two pieces -- "Holiday," a sort of Post-Modern samba contest with music by Moulton's longtime collaborator, A. Leroy, and "Medley," with music by five composers for its five sections -- were less specific in imagery but basically in the same ball park. Taken together, they suggest that for all their skill and verve, Moulton's works are rather circumscribed in means and range of expression.
In all three works, contact between dancers is minimal, and so are role distinctions -- they're like six equal unisex modules. Moulton's universe seems devoid of lyricism, contemplation or pain. It's a world with all the magnetism and unreality of cola commercials -- manic, euphoric, infectious, a sanitized idyll of uniformly robust, alluring, eternally young revelers, with more energy than they know what to do with.
Minnesota-born Moulton, 31, danced with Merce Cunningham for three years and has been choreographing for about a decade. His father was a vaudevillian, and when Moulton struck out on his own, he started with tap-dance solos. He first attracted wide notice in the late '70s with his "precision ball-passing" routines, which combined the mathematical rigors of Post-Modern pattern dance with the funky fun of arcade games. He continues, with great facility and zest, to blend the same contrasting impulses in these newer pieces. It will be interesting to see where this tack leads him.