Helen Rea and Don Zuckerman are wonderful dancers. Their movements are fluid, ample and clear, and there is a sense of innocence and serenity about their dancing.
For the past three years Rea and Zuckerman, longtime members of the Dance Exchange, have been performing as Duets, etc., and their concert Friday night at Dance Place drew many Washington dancers, choreographers and longtime fans. The five dances, none choreographed by the performers, showed them less as dancers than as connoisseurs of choreography. Four had trappings -- props, words and songs, film, role reversal -- that, while not actually detracting from the dancing, gave it a somewhat subsidiary role.
In some ways, the most intriguing work was Victoria Marks' "Anatomy of a Triangle." In the opening section, "Solo," Rea, live and in shadow, danced before projections of a man and woman filmed in silhouette. Sometimes Rea reacted to the filmed dancers, sometimes she joined them, imitating them, and the juxtapositions were fascinating.
The second section, "Duet" (Rea and Zuckerman), portrayed the couple's relationship; the third, "Trio" (Rea, Zuckerman and guest Anne McDonald), showed the conflict implied by the title. The film returned briefly at the end of the piece; unfortunately, most of it wasn't shown because of technical difficulties.
Although the idea was dazzling, the dance didn't work because it was emotionally pallid, almost an abstract treatment of a literal, dramatic situation. Rea seemed angry at the situation, and wistful and wan when around Zuckerman, but everyone else's feelings for one another were so ambivalent they might as well have been looking at the floor. The movements themselves (which became repetitious to the point of tedium in the second and third sections) were not varied or characteristic enough to carry the story.
The most daring undertaking was "The Pine Cone Field," from Kei Takei's "Light, Part 14." Takei has devoted years to creating evening-length installments of her own very individual world, and to see one dance excerpted from that context and placed in a more ordinary setting is pleasantly disconcerting. Rea and Zuckerman, as a peasant couple who face life stomping, mouths drawn permanently into an "oh" shape and shouting "Ho" about 150 times, were more humorous, more human and less mysterious than the original.
Sally Nash's "A Portrait" had Zuckerman in a dress, acting neurotic, and Rea in shirt, trousers and a vest, acting macho. The dance depended on cliche's ("she" fawning on "him" without affection being returned) for its substance, and would have seemed dated and unnecessary had the roles not been reversed.
Completing the program were two solos: Nancy Galeota's "Motor Series: Who Am I?," which Rea made a continuous whirl of movement; and four excerpts from Liz Lerman's "Nine Short Dances About the Defense Budget and Other Military Matters" for Zuckerman, whose delivery was menacingly friendly, like the nice man who offers children lollipops if they'll get in his car, and dead on target.