Concern with the quality of life, not just dance, runs through the work of Lee Wenger, whose work made up most of the repertory brought to St. James Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill this weekend by the New Performing Dance Company from Durham, N.C. Wenger is a moralist who, rather than sit in judgment, prefers to highlight discrepancies.
"Descent" shows a woman and man in a domestic setting. She is mundane. All her actions are routine: dressing, smoking, newspaper reading. Even when she comes close to dancing, it's an exercise for her legs. Her mate is given to secret musings. He takes movement and extends it into moody passages. Often, these begin and end in apathy. Is he a hidden poet in agony? Is she the no-nonsense wife? Whatever the particulars, it's a relationship on the decline.
Another duet, "Maze," draws on the harlequinade for its theme and alludes to the balletic pas de deux for its means. The woman -- the star -- is alive, while her poor partner is practically a robot. Again, it's an affair that won't last. In "A Suitable Life," four dancers in transluscent flesh-toned tights fitfully search for meaning and character. If they haven't got them, Wenger seems to ask, how can they keep the ones they find?
A pattern that runs through Wenger's use of movement, whether technical or natural, is the alternation of tightly controlled dynamics with fallout -- whatever the consequences of self-assertion happen to be. She likes to use vivid sets and props, often of her own design. The black and white dominoes and stripes with scarlet focuses for the curtains and costumes of "Maze" were worthy of the Wiener Werksta tte.
The dancers -- Vickie Bassett, Marian Roh, Bruce Vrana and Wenger -- are subtly expressive performers and respectable technicians. Vrana's "Square Dance," the one work not by Wenger, shared some of Wenger's movement concerns but seemed more involved with art than with life. Both choreographers meshed their choices of music intimately with their concepts.