Daniel West has arrived.
Such was the cumulative message of the program by the Daniel West Dancers, in three sold-out performances at the Dance Place this past weekend.
As a dancer and fledgling choreographer, West, now 34, had batted around this country and Europe (this isn't meant as a pun, though West had pro baseball aspirations in earlier days) for a number of years in more or less vagabond fashion. About five years ago he settled in Washington and began making dances for various local troupes. The works were fresh, bold, expertly constructed and stamped with an aggressive individuality. This year for the first time West assembled a troupe of his own, which made its debut in the Washington Dance Directions '85 festival last June. Those performances made it clear that West belonged in the front ranks of area choreographers.
The Dance Place event made it clearer still, putting a final seal on West's emergence from the "emerging" artist category, to use the current jargon. This was the first full, independent program for his troupe and it constituted an instant West retrospective, containing most of his major works of a half decade as well as a premiere -- "Falling for You," a trio set to the third movement of Brahms' F Minor Viola Sonata.
Seeing five works in tandem made one all the more keenly aware of West's choreographic strengths: a consistently inventive movement vocabulary; strongly outlined thematic concepts; lucid, lean and logical structure; and a powerful visceral impact. The juxtaposition also underscored a number of stylistic traits common to the pieces, among them the use of permuted repetition; vivid, often spasmodic, gesture; forceful articulation of stage space; an egalitarian treatment of the ensemble; and a tough, almost belligerent veneer, all of these reminiscent of Pina Bausch, probably the single most telling influence in West's background.
The new piece, "Falling for You," harks back to the vein of acrid wit exhibited in "Stravinsky Quartet," the earliest (1981) West opus of the program, featuring an expressionless West seated at a table sipping booze while three women who may be sirens of his past, present or future tease, tempt and defy him. The newer work has a trio of seated women, dolled up in sequined party dresses and corsages, approaching unseen ball partners and repeatedly falling -- both literally and in the sense of infatuation and romantic prostration -- flat on the floor. It's a portrait of social anxiety, women scrambling so fearfully and hard to please the opposite sex they lose all balance.
The other three works were in West's seemingly more characteristic militant mood. In "Medium Red," seven women in fatigues drone compulsively through combat maneuvers to the insistent beat of Robin Rose's score. "He Made Her Do It" is the ferocious solo West tailored to Mary Williford's incisive talents last year, a sustained shriek of erotic agony complemented by Diamanda Galas' vocal hysteria. The most potently realized of all, "We Walk a Mile in Your Shoes," presents four women in accelerating patterns of gestural tics, heated to a confrontational boiling point by the raw bleatings of the Rova Sax Quartet.
Though only the performances of the two most recent works had quite the sledgehammer force and accuracy West's style demands, the dancers -- Williford, Emily Kinnamon, Beth Spicer, Pam Matthews, Sharon Wyrrick and Jan Steckel -- are clearly among Washington's finest and seemed persuasively committed to the material.
The program firmly established West's credentials, but also left questions in its wake. Does he not use male dancers because he can't find any to suit him or because he prefers to work exclusively with women? Can he handle work on a larger scale ("The Rite of Spring" is among his ambitions)? And can he extend his formal and expressive range without falling captive to his present choreographic trademarks? That such questions suggest themselves is a further sign of West's promise.