The best choreographer treats his dances as a dog does his favorite bones -- gnawing over each morsel until there is no juice left to extract. Ironically, it is the choreographer who is timid about wringing his material for its implications and variations that is most in danger of losing his audience with a resultantly meandering dance.
There was not a work on the Jan Taylor Dance Theatre's program at the Dance Place this weekend that did not show a sense of promise in its opening moments before derailing somewhere along the way. The problem seems to be a lack of rigor in following a set premise and design. Taylor loses her momentum, enticed by stray movements and themes that are visually arresting but carry her away from the undeveloped original material. Identifying structural and thematic principles becomes difficult as the ultimate value seems to be whatever catches the eye. The dances end up containing everything but the kitchen sink.
Taylor is as ambitious a performer as she is a choreographer. She created and danced in every work on this weekend's program, which included two premieres as well as the expansion of a 1983 piece. Alvin Mayes' gestural studies (shining shoes, mopping his brow, and so on) proved a fascinating opening to "Time Is Tight," but the work degenerated when Mayes was joined by two romping women, banal ciphers who brought neither tension nor harmony to their relationship with him.
"Prism," a pure dance study, also had an opening -- and the briefest closing restatement -- that seemed unconnected with its central portion. It was, however, a primer of movement that might be said to constitute Jan Taylor's style. In "Prism," as elsewhere, Taylor uses movement centrifugally, with the limbs and head flung away from the body. The dynamics are sharp and edgy, and are applied to whipping turns and falls, propulsive extensions and quick leaps.
The expanded work is 1983's "Anemone," which now includes "Mollusk" and "Wakumi." And if ever a theme did not need further treatment, this is it. It is these deadly serious "nature studies" that made the old modern dance ripe for parody, and Taylor's version lacks whimsy or commentary, settling instead for 20 minutes worth of undersea mimicry.
The program also included "What the Hand Dare Seize the Fire," a parody of Apache dancing, whose sustainment is broken by the inconsistency of the woman's lethargy. Based on the Malayan aboriginal custom of family dream-telling, "Mojique" was fascinating in its conception. In execution, however, it proved a disappointment, another of those ubiquitous "two men keep one woman off the floor" dances.
Taylor is a choreographer who could use an editor: someone to steer her away from excess, to judiciously prune, to get her back on track when she wanders from the subject, to keep her from the choreographic aside.