The D.C. Contemporary Dance Theater is on the fast track. Not quite two years old, the company made its Kennedy Center debut last night, packing the Terrace Theater with a vocally appreciative audience. Not even a handful of Washington-based dance companies could make a similar claim.
The company, with its energetic dancing and extroverted performing style, has a built-in persona exemplified by two works of resident choreographer Adrain Bolton, "L'Histoire" and "Just for Awhile." Both pieces depend upon performance and theatrics more than technique; both make audiences scream.
"Just for Awhile," a combative pas de deux danced to music by Jennifer Holliday, pits Katherine J. Smith against choreographer Bolton in a predictable drama about a couple who love to fight. Although the female contingent of the company has been immeasurably strengthened by the addition of several new dancers, Smith remains its star. An extraordinarily powerful dancer, taut yet limber, movements and emotions pouring out of her like sweat, Smith is both sexy and dangerous, and "Just for Awhile" showcases her talents.
An engaging mixture of African, belly and jazz dance, "L'Histoire" is both the company's blessing and its curse. It has become the company's signature piece; it's what audiences want to see, and it lets the dancers shimmy and shake up a storm. For a long time to come, audiences will demand other works just like it and critics will demand more serious pieces to balance it.
Two premieres by guest choreographer Lloyd E. Whitmore tried to fill both commissions. "The Hissing of Summer Lawns," a calmer "ethnic" number, provided solid dancing opportunities for its small cast of four women and four men. The ethnicity was provided as much by the costumes (skirts for both men and women) as the movements, but the work is structurally sound, if not especially interesting.
The same problems stalk "Equipoise," a pas de deux for Whitmore and Elana Anderson, that is lyrical without being pretty, a polar opposite of "Just for Awhile." Although perfectly respectable pieces, and valuable additions to the company's repertory in that they technically challenge the dancers, neither Whitmore work generated the excitement of the Bolton staples.
The company looked good on the Terrace stage, David L. Arrow's lighting being shown to particular advantage. The dancers themselves still need more polish. Their technique is occasionally ragged, their attack haphazard. But that energy never flags; it, as much as "L'Histoire," is their calling card.