Seeing is doubting, at least for the dancer watching a tape of what he's just performed or for the choreographer transferring movement he created in the studio onto a proscenium stage. Washington Dance Directions provides local professionals with this unsettling but essential experience.
The series offers work that's newbut not always fully formed. Some pieces premiered at the Marvin Theatre last weekend may never be danced the same way again, even at repeat performances of all three programs later this week. And what emerges is not a Washington style in dance, but an uncommon amount of variety.
Upright Vertebrates, on Program 2 (scheduled again for Saturday) is the group name for Ron Paul, Dianne Hunt and occasional friends. The thinking rather than wagging end of the spine dominated the group's work. Paul's "Tether" was an encyclopedia of partnering. Manifold possibilities were explored in brief clips of movement that ended in snapshot poses. Hunt, whose body is solid, sometimes carried the slim Paul. When arms, legs and torso parts had been exhausted in the search for different ways of binding two people together, the dancers created more possibilities by using a red ring-band. Sometimes, though, after a heady problem had been solved, they just consoled each other with a simple, fleeting embrace. In Paul's "Leopard People," a trio for himself, Hunt and Connie O'Mara, movement was frantic; without injections of speech, it might have been even funnier.
The two female figures in "Sacred Ground," by Beth Burkhardt's Totem group, seemed larger than life as they stood amid symbols of death -- animal skulls and bones. Tension was built through big, careful motions flecked with tiny, taut actions. Burkhardt, the taller figure, was priestess and Denise Read her handmaiden as they prepared a sacrifice. Through stage magic, the drab leaves they held became a multicolored symbol of life-in-death. Then, a birth seemed in the offing. Burkhardt labored to Read's midwifery. Yet, nothing came forth. Was Burkhardt telling us prayers aren't answered in life? True enough, but this was theater and we expected miracles.
With the Contemporary Dancers of Alexandria, one could relax into conventionality. Jim Brown's "Continuum," a pattern dance for six women, and "The Fool," a clown solo for himself, date from the 1970s. As the only older works on the series, they might have been more memorable.
Program 3 (to be repeated Thursday) featured three other companies. Roberta Rothstein's Momentum Dance Theatre presented two quartets: Jan Van Dyke's stamp-and-clapathon "Rhythm No. 4" and Rothstein's show-biz "Alegria." The all-female cast had plenty of drive but not enough control for the rigorous Van Dyke work, in which there are few gentle threads. More glamor and passion would have helped Rothstein's semi-Spanish strutting.
Alcine Wiltz choreographs as if postmodernism hadn't happened. His "Urban Estrangement" showed alienated '50s characters moving energetically but warily to protect their bodies and territory on stage. "Nocturne," a trio for Joseph Mills, Elizabeth Webb and Wiltz, looks like a Martha Graham epic with its jealous sexuality. But it is emasculated Graham: the dancers' hands and feet remain flesh, they don't become ax blades that cleave space.
The series' best candidates for the permanent repertory were contributed by the Jan Taylor Dance Theatre. Taylor and Alvin Mayes danced his "Tag," a duet as lyrically playful as a summer flirtation. The pair hardly touches at first, but when it finally does the ways are charming and unexpected. Taylor's "The Letter" mingles love and hurt, nostalgia and wartime horror, characters born before World War II and behavior from after the Sexual Revolution. By deftly combining simple, lilting, almost illustrative movement with lighting that delineates time frames and rag-style music, the choreographer achieves her very intriguing blend of moods.