Daniel West is that rare choreographer in these days of feel-good art: He leaves his audience with material for serious discussion. This was certainly the case after Friday's performance by the Daniel West Dancers at the Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College, where West presented his company in the program with which it has been touring the East Coast.
West's subject is women, and his angry dances are a catalogue of their disappointments, their difficulties in meeting societal expectations, their mad responses to a mad environment. Since the debut here last year of the Daniel West Dancers, this commentary by a man on women's darker side has sparked controversy as well as praise. Some have considered West's appropriation of these "women's" themes a presumption; others have found it unsettlingly canny; still others applaud the fact that West has found drama in the commonplace of women's lives.
Which is not to say that the dances work only on a cerebral level. The movement style is near assaultive. Floods of convulsive energy erupt from stillness. The women move their limbs as hinges in staccato stutters and sobs. They stare aggressively at the audience. There is no attempt, as West points out ironically in "We Walk a Mile in Your Shoes," to be "nice" in traditional feminine ways.
* With its commentary on the traps facing women in their stereotyping by roles, "We Walk" has retained its power to disturb. And since its premiere last fall, "Falling for You" has found its bittersweet edge, provoking fewer laughs and greater recognition about what these "falls" can engender.
But West's works do not only define the limits society imposes upon women, they also suggest a response. Ostensibly plotless, "Medium Red" and "Agitation" seem to suggest a contemporary urban tribe of decidedly aggressive stance. In "Agitation," as the dancers semaphore in a diagonal line before exploding about the stage, the effect brings to mind the gladiatorial opening and closing sections of Balanchine's "Symphony in Three Movements."
Mary Williford, assistant artistic director of the company, turned in a splendid performance of bone-crunching torment for the solo "He Made Her Do It." The rest of the women -- Donna Gangloff, Emily Kinnamon, Pam Matthews, Beth Spicer, Jan Steckel and Sharon Wyrrick -- were also superb. For "Agitation," which was originally choreographed for Maryland Dance Theatre in 1983, West has added men to his company roster for the first time. David deBenedet, Tom Mills and Tommy Neblet are technically sure and attractive dancers, but they still seem peripheral to West's style and repertory.