the Contemporary Dancers of Alexandria -- has had a unique personality since its inception. It's always been a repertory company and had, especially in its early years, a rather genteel image. The handful of dancers was carefully chosen, as were the dances, thoughtful works that just barely qualified as "experimental." Above all, the company understood its limits, never attempting anything beyond its means.
CODA has gone through some structural changes in the past couple of years, and its seventh-anniversary concert, which had a dress rehearsal last night at Alexandria's Lee Center, showed the company has changed its personality as well. There are 10 dancers now, not all up to CODA's past standards, and Artistic Director Jim Brown has assembled an ambitious repertory that looks more experimental than it really is.
His "Colony," a 1982 piece, looks at least a decade older. It's obviously intended as a serious work, exploring parallels between human and animal behavior, but it goes on far too long, and the sight of dancers playing with garbage bags and corrugated steel panels is one I never wanted to see again. "Up and Down, Running Around, and Back to Bach," a 1973 Brown piece that isn't just a commentary on joggers, is easier to take.
Wendy Woodson's "Business as Usual," a premiere, is also a serious effort lightened with bits of wry humor, but doesn't say anything about the meaningless of the corporate existence that hasn't been said before.
On the other hand, Richmond-based choreographer Melanie Snyder's "Mad Kings and Clowns" looks like nothing else in CODA's repertory, past or present. This poignant duet, well danced by Brown and Wayne Anton as the sometimes puppet-like, often grotesque madmen of the title, depends on movement rather than concepts to make its points.
Completing the program, Daniel West's "Engine," made for the company in 1984, churns along quietly, without the agitated pace that West often favors. But the piece lacks build, the dancers aren't quite precise enough, and the mind wanders.