Ajax means strength, whether one thinks of the classical hero or the commercial cleanser. The modern dancer Joe Drayton uses the ancient appellation both as nickname and as his corporate label -- Ajax Moving Company. It could also be the title of the work he premiered at d.c. space late yesterday and will repeat tonight.
A solo, and a long one, "Ajax" is partly endurance test, partly the biography of contemporary man. The opening section, a birth scene, is strong indeed. Carefully set in a living room complete with a sofa chair, standing lamp and three television sets, are eight large plastic bags. One of these bags begins to move, almost imperceptibly at first. The accompanying sound consists of knocks, loud but infrequent. Gradually, as the motion becomes strenuous and whining sounds are added, the bag's contents display human outlines and a painful process evolves. There is a stretching, a striving, a thrashing: The humunculus within the plastic membrane begins to hatch.
Birth is usually pictured from the mother's viewpoint but Drayton, no sentimentalist, reduces her to an inanimate prison. The pangs he portrays are the incipient hero's longings for freedom. A tear in the bag occurs. Hands emerge, a knee protrudes through another split and the rest of a leg struggles through. Drayton takes his time ridding himself of his plastic encumberance and it's fascinating to see agony transform into pleasure as each part of the anatomy discovers that external restraint has ceased.
The newborn hero slithers on the floor and begins to study himself. His eyes are alert but his lips purse unheedingly. He begins to stand, at first achieving only a squat and propelling himself through space with a remarkable sitting lope. Just as Ajax attains upright human dignity, his curiosity leads him to investigate a knob on that not forbidden tree -- the television set. Not one, but two of the room's three sets turn on and they control the hero's actions for the rest of his life.
Drayton's solo rushes, meanders and tumbles along for the good part of an hour as he imitates what television has to offer. He is a tall, lean dancer and watching his muscle action in the close quarters of d.c. space makes one respect not just his strength but also his control. He can propel himself into motion from stillness in an instant. He can slow himself so that his body seems to flow like lava and honey as he mirrors television's sporting sequences and dance classes. None of this, though, equals the intensity of the first, the birth scene. It could stand on its own.