Maida Withers, a professor in the dance program at George Washington University, observed this weekend that this seems to be a time when college dance departments are emphasizing the display of technique and the precedence of choreography whose sole message is physical perfection. This is seen as a sharp break with the past, when colleges traditionally encouraged choreography that dealt with social, personal and political issues and in which there was a maximum of physical interaction among dancers, both in focus and in the sharing of body weight.
Withers' perceptive remarks were prompted by this weekend's activity at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Festival of the American College Dance Festival Association. Students from 22 colleges and universities gathered at the University of Maryland, College Park, for four days of master classes and performances that culminated in a concert Saturday night at Tawes Theatre. The concert represented the winnowing of 28 dances that had been entered for consideration to the nine selected for the final program by festival adjudicators -- choreographer Don Redlich, educator Bessie Schonberg and Washington writer Pamela Sommers.
On the basis of Saturday's concert, the adjudicators also nominated two Ohio State University students for scholarships to the American Dance Festival, which will be held at Duke University this summer. The award for outstanding performer was given to Earnie Stevenson, who electrified the theater with his solo "Grounded." Uncannily reminiscent of the young Jose' Limo'n, Stevenson exuded the earthy energy and fervor of the early modern dance. Stevenson's fellow student, Susan Van Pelt, was awarded the choreographic scholarship nomination for her "Weather or Not," a work that was unquestionably well crafted but seemed a compendium of material from various dances rather than a coherent entity. The rhythmic drive of the opening and closing sections, however, was quite compelling, in the manner of Laura Dean.
Other notable performances were turned in by students from Ohio University in Madeline Scott's "Brocade," and by dancers from Columbia College in a reconstruction of Nina Weiner's "Kemosabe." Choreographic freshness was displayed in Ninotchka Bennahum's "Instant Replay," a look at male camaraderie in sports, as performed by beefy athletes from Swarthmore College.
Also on the program were works danced by students from the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Maryland.