The grand slam on the second "Washington Dance Directions '85" program at the Marvin Center Theater last night was the debut appearance of the Daniel West Dancers.
It's instantly apparent that the new troupe is playing hardball, and in the big leagues. The company, presently of eight women -- some familiar from past contexts, others new -- will plainly be a force to reckon with from now on. And perhaps not only in Washington. If West's plans materialize in accord with last night's promise, the group may make a mark nationally and even internationally. Under West's creative leadership, they not only dance like whizzes, but have the requisite choreographic clout.
West had studied with Loyce Houlton, Dennis Nahat and Pina Bausch and made some dances in Europe before showing up in Washington maybe five years ago. In the intervening time, as guest choreographer with several area troupes, he quickly claimed a place in the front ranks of Washington dance. With the premiere of his latest work, "We Walk a Mile in Your Shoes," for four dancers to music by the Rova Sax Quartet, he takes yet another forward stride. The choreography has an authority and finish that transcend the Washington norm even at the top level. Structure, rhythm and image fuse into a powerful kinetic whole, deriving unrelenting intensity from dancing that brooks no falsity or sloppiness. The foursome -- Emily Kinnamon, Mary Williford, Pam Wilson and Sharon Wyrrick -- catches fire from the first entrance, and the sparks never stop flying.
Rova's music is brilliant -- harsh, nervous, biting, melancholy -- and it makes a perfect foil for what West is up to. The four women, each differently dressed -- a man's tux, a sedate suit, a cocktail dress, a shirt and khakis -- walk on stage with belligerent neutrality, only to suddenly blitz into brief, violent, eccentric spasms of movement. They are weird, bored, erotically charged, compulsive creatures, not the least hard-bitten when they stride briskly toward the audience, spitting out phrases about how everything is "nice" as if they were shooting poison darts. Their jerky frenzy boils to a feverish crescendo; then, as suddenly, all is calm. The four walk to the rear and toss a final contemptuous glance at us over their shoulders.
There's something of Bausch's alienation here, something of William Forsythe's punk expresionism, and something still of the minimalist form evident in West's earlier works, like the sternly militant "Medium Red" (1982), also on last night's program. It's too early to tell whether West has transmuted this fusion into a genuinely original vision or idiom of his own; in the meantime, he's given us a superb piece of choreography and launched a first-class dance troupe -- more than enough for a night's work.
Sharing last night's program were the D.C. Contemporary Dance Theater and dancer-choreographer Lucinda Weaver Hall, both relatively new to the Washington scene. DCCDT, the area's most conspicuously integrated troupe, has proven itself an exuberant showcase for youthful talent, and in repertory mixing African, jazz and modern dance elements, the dancers again seemed to be the prime attraction. Hall, like West, is an American who has spent much time abroad. Her solo creations, however, seem to be on the hermetic, cerebral, involuted side, their most compelling aspect being an eeriness suggesting early Mary Wigman. Her performances of "Wadi Woven" and "Leave Only Footprints" displayed subtle and exemplary control.