Some events have significance beyond their particulars, and one of them is "Washington Dance Directions," a series of showcase performances by locally based choreographers and companies that is now into its third annual edition.
Subtitled "A Festival of Premieres" this year to emphasize new work, the festival got under way last night at the Marvin Theatre with the first of three programs, each to be repeated next week in reshuffled order.
Since the first festival in 1984, "WDD" will have presented 22 different troupes and solo artists. The event draws strength from its numbers. The sharing of costs, programs and audiences allows the groups to be seen in a well-outfitted, centrally located theater, and to benefit from the visibility of a festival format. In view of the continuing shortage of outlets for area troupes, this is a real blessing, for which special thanks are due to George Washington University, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, production coordinator Dianne Hunt and production adviser Maida Withers.
It would be gratifying to report that the festival got off to an artistically smashing start, but it didn't happen that way. Instead, what we saw was a reflection of the broad range of choreographic approaches hereabouts, and a demonstration of the risks inherent in the new.
Since I was informed afterward that the lighting cues for Lucinda Weaver Hall's "So Long Solo Lola" went completely haywire, it seems fairest to refrain from comment about it. I'll report only that that Hall spoke fragmented, apologetic lines (from William Gaddis' "J.R.") having something to do with money as she moved in nervous bursts.
A second solo, "Songes," to a spectral electronic score by Jean-Claude Risset, featured Hall swathed in gauzy fabric, slowly rising from a crouch to stretches, curls and spins that deformed the cloth into larval or cadaverous shapes. There are surface echoes here of Martha Graham's 1930 "Lamentation," but none of its emotional resonance. Formal and imagistic skills were apparent, but it was still hard to know what Hall was driving at.
Akua Femi Kouyate's duet "Held From Both Sides," drawing on traditional African material as well as modern techniques, seemed more a matter of gut impulses overriding formal considerations. Kouyate and partner Veronica Hunte's violent contractions, limb flailings and locked hands made a strong visceral statement, but choreographic and musical monotony rather diluted the impact.
Hall's and Kouyate's works demanded to be taken seriously. "The Recipe for a Hot Planet," by Lightmoves Collaborative (Michelle Ava, Jack Guidone and colleagues), could not. A multimedia attempt at a whimsical version of the Book of Genesis -- part improvisational comedy, part Mummenschanz-style illusionism and part sci-fi music video -- it never got beyond the level of playpen antics.