Sweltering in the upper reaches of the Dance Place Friday night, one hoped for a performance that might make one forget, at least momentarily, about the heat. Unfortunately, the program presented by the double bill of Alvin Mayes and Karen Bernstein and the Jan Taylor Dance Theatre offered precious little in the way of diversion or substance.
Mayes and Bernstein, two strong and personable dancers, performed only one work that made effective use of their talent. Sharon Wyrrick's "S/He was Sort of a ..." features Mayes in boxer shorts and button-down shirt, and Bernstein in a prom dress, engaging in a loony encounter composed of mock-passionate embraces, full-bodied shimmies, beautifully timed advances and retreats and zonked-out expressions. This madcap relationship is aided immeasurably by Scott Johnson's hilarious score, which muses over a "Guy Named John Somebody" in a brilliant mix of spoken dialogue and music.
The rest of the duo's offering ranged from puzzling to downright embarrassing. Clarence Teeters' "Ways and Means," a half-baked solo performed by Bernstein, appeared to be about the discomfort experienced by a dancer sent out on stage with virtually no steps or focus. She shrugs, confronts the audience, walks around, executes a few fitful movements and turns, and looks just plain miserable. George Winston's treacly piano score does little to enhance this empty exercise. Even more baffling is Lesa McLaughlin's duet "Time in Mind," whose alternately abstract and dramatic movements hint at some sort of troubled relationship, but never last long enough or make enough visual sense to flesh things out. Of Mayes' "Down the Rabbit Hole," a sophomorically surreal interpretation of "Alice and Wonderland," the less said the better.
The Jan Taylor Dance Theatre's strong suit is straight-ahead jazz dance set to up-tempo musical scores. Taylor's quartet "Jump Start," to the pulsing music of Talking Heads, looks very flashy, well rehearsed and exhilarating to perform. But when Taylor attempts to communicate anything pithy or profound, she stumbles. "Umbra," a premiere, features three women in diaphanous garb lighting candles and participating in the kind of "ritualistic" modern dance any dance-goer has witnessed countless times. "The Letter," a long, ambitious and thoroughly indecipherable work that purports to "compare and contrast relationships of wartime," has two men and two women interacting violently and lovingly in constantly shifting partnerships.
The imaginative lighting design for all of these works was the brainchild of Paul Jackson.