Realism, formalism and the projection of personality is the tripod on which Wendy Woodson balances her action choreography. In the new work shown by Woodson and Present Company at the Dance Place Friday night, all three elements are omnipresent, but in different proportions.
"Getting Ahead," the premiere on the program, leans away from personality so that the choreographer's raw material preferences and structural methods stand out starkly. Three women, dressed alike in red suits that cuff below the knees and flat black shoes with matching socks, move and stop, line up and scatter. They say "Go ahead" or "I'm on my way" without specifically addressing each other. Their movement and speech are drawn from everyday actions and expressions, yet seem stylized because everything is fast, clipped and delivered evenly. The three aren't interchangeable, but their characters are less vivid than their clothes. Consequently, one doesn't learn anything new about the actions they perform after the work's first moments. "Getting Ahead" may be a choreographic blueprint, but it is unlikely to become a crowd pleaser.
When Woodson allows personality to emerge in her performers, her work can hold surprises through to the end. In "Split Seconds," several young dancers from Improvisations Unlimited show their individuality gradually, shyly, in a pendulum of play that is fresh and touching. When skilled actors attacked the choreography, it became almost intense: Achim Nowak's gentle fervor in "Force of Habit" and Jim Brown's sly naivete' in "Duet" were fine foils for Woodson's own brusque manner. The humor she achieves is subtle and unexpected. Only Woodson's self-discipline kept the choreography from catching fire.