Sharon Wyrrick has been one of Washington's finest dancers and most capable, interesting choreographers for the better part of a decade. Her appearance at Dance Place this past weekend, however, marked her first full program with her own troupe, Full Circle, in two years. It was doubly welcome, both as the company's return to the local scene and for its ponderable artistic substance.
Wyrrick is a native Oklahoman who'd done a stint as a ballet dancer before completing a master's in dance at American University in 1980. The following year she founded Full Circle.
Small, delicate features and bone structure have marked her as a naturally lyrical dancer. But Wyrrick has also striven hard and successfully to overcome stereotypes. Both as a dancer and choreographer she's often explored hard-edged, blunt styles and materials that might seem to run counter to the pretty sweetness of her looks.
This was again the case in the Dance Place program, nowhere less conspicuously than in the solos choreographed for her by hardy modern dance veteran Pola Nirenska.
"Woman," a premiere by Nirenska, consisted of three linked solos, with Wyrrick costumed alluringly in black by Gayle Behrman Jaster and music in three shades (and eras) of jazz -- by Anthony Davis, Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, the last peppered with scat singing by Ella Fitzgerald.
Nirenska shows us a more frankly sexy and feverish Wyrrick than previous performances would have intimated as possible. The movements and moods of "Woman" span a gamut of erotic push-pull ranging from denial to open declaration of desire; the languid removal of an arm-length glove at the end of the first solo is a real sizzler. It's complemented by the nervous, bluesy moods of the Miles Davis section, played out along a diagonal of three chairs, and the confident, playful shake and roll of the Ellington number.
The three other solos of the program's first half testified anew to Wyrrick's expressive and technical range. Nirenska's "Shout," to brilliantly obsessive music by Lou Harrison, is a shrieking crescendo of protest, terror and outrage. Wyrrick's own "Waltz," featuring Marjorie Schick's unusual costume -- a stylized party dress constructed of Venetian-blind-like slats -- is an exotic cameo in which the dancer is made to resemble a mechanical toy atop a windup music box. "Folding," an older Wyrrick solo, is a kind of corporeal origami, ringing changes on the motif of folding both as a concept and an activity.
"Infinite Passions," the premiere ensemble piece that closed the program, doesn't quite qualify as a "breakthrough" for Wyrrick, since it uses so many elements she's dealt with in the past. All the same, it may well be the most riveting, richly textured and completely realized dance opus she's achieved so far. Its four large sections utilize props, sung and spoken words, gestural and mimetic movements, unison pattern dancing and music by Morricone-Zorn, Slap, van Tiegham and Mertens to weave a ritualistic tapestry at once goofy and mysterious, mirthful and mesmerizing.
In the first section, five dancers define a primitive pasture surrounded by ferns, fronds and blossoms, in the midst of which they play mischievous games with balloons, evoking everything from phallic tumescence to pregnancy. In the second, a spiraling procession of three women who cradle flowers in their arms becomes a paean to vegetation, just as the following section, in which the returning five dancers plead longingly with a bevy of toy ducks, is a wacky homage to the animal kingdom. In the finale, the whole ensemble literally makes a clean sweep of things, each dancer partnering a broomstick (shades of Astaire) and all mopping up the stage litter -- ferns, posies and ducks -- leading to a last confrontational stare at the audience. Brazenly witty and beautifully structured, it's a high point for Wyrrick and for Washington dance.