Throughout the performance of Sally Nash's "Box 48" at Mount Vernon College this weekend, it sprang to mind that the choreographer had painted herself into a corner by working with dancers who were not up to the demands of her work. However, Nash, too, had some thoughts on the matter -- or something like it -- which she revealed during the concluding section of the dance.
A letter from a poet who compared dancers' bodies to writers' words (dubbing them both "little household pets") set Nash to contemplating how choreographic notions must be sacrificed to the realities of human bodies. Nash's philosophical acceptance of this fact is reflected, for better or worse, in her art. Clearly, Nash's dancers interest her for reasons other than the technical. And her Last Minute Wood Company, which includes a female carpenter and blacksmith, as well as a professional tennis player, does have some of the more interesting biographies around. The fact remains, however, that the inexperience of some of these dancers, with the exception of Laura Crowne and Nash herself, clouded what was otherwise an engrossing work.
With her fuzzy hair and formless clothing, Nash's appearance testifies that she does not subscribe to the sleek, polished look of the typical professional dancer. Her movement style, too, is easy and unforced, with a flowing gestural emphasis that alternates between quasi-mime and abstract movement.
Nash, a Washington native, joined the back-to-nature movement 10 years ago in moving to Rappahannock County. According to the program notes, it was an artistic decision as well as a personal one. She equates the rural existence with "personal experience and daily life," and this she views as the legitimate basis of dance.
"Box 48" is an ambitious and finely sustained work in which danced and spoken ruminations are set off by the outside world as it arrives via letters to a rural mailbox. The random nature of mailbox contents dictates an episodic structure, and there is an enviable variety of correspondents. A breezy, straightforward hostess who details dinner-party menus and their proper preparation is followed by a confessional essay on religious conversion and the nature of faith. One letter serves as the springboard for a crafty commentary on the confusion and jealousy engendered by relationships in a world of interchangeable mates. The poet's preoccupation with the growth of his craft inspires the analysis of Nash's own approach to dance.
The letters were by turn witty, deadpan, profound and sly, and Tom Espinola's fine score gracefully switched gears to provide an evocative aural environment for each of these moods.