Why do some choreographers think that what they go through to make dances is more interesting than the dances they make? Although on paper Michelle Ava and David Appel have nothing in common except their last initial and a partiality for improvisation, both choreographers showed a work in their shared concert Friday night at Dance Place that included earnest, taped natterings about the way they work. Or, as Ava put it, "Process is what it's all about."
Not necessarily. None of Ava's five pieces on this long, long program (a doubleheader more than a shared concert, really; there was no exchange between artists) proved her instructions to her dancers that "we take the old and make it new" or "we bring order out of chaos." These remained only words, and if the words hadn't been included, the failure to realize the thoughts might not have been as annoying.
But Ava, a good dancer with a pleasantly kooky persona, seems to make dances out of a need to perform rather than a need to create, and when she does have a good idea -- like the seated, circling movements in "Turiya" where the mass of dancers seem to be sucked and pulled by tides -- it quickly degenerates into a cliche'. These same dancers later climb walls (literally), cover each other with sheets, and walk around carrying little lighted sticks and chanting "From here to there, from there to here, from here to here."
Appel's strongest work, "Hot Weather Story," was about process, but with results. A program note tells us the dance came out of studio experimentation, and Appel lets us see the experiments. But the dance works because the movements are interesting, and because Appel is such an excellent dancer. He can make movements look like time-lapse photography -- the scale is so small, the dynamics so intense, that he seems to slow down time and make every movement absolutely legible. In "Hot Weather Story," Appel tries out loose, swinging movements, but his limbs never seem boneless, his stance is never casual. Instead, we see exactly what muscle and bone and joints have to do to produce loose movements. It's seeing movement X-rayed, then exhibited frame by frame.
This is process as performance, and it's far more satisfying than the strained and self-conscious telephone conversation between Appel and Binnie Ritchie Holum (his partner in "Bay Window") that serves as a score for that work, or the lethargic wrestling match that seemed less significant than it would have, had we not been told it was a "dance that could take place in any time or any place" and other things we didn't really need to know.