Categories don't contain Erick Hawkins' works often. Serious pieces may turn comic, abstract movement become depiction, symbols develop into individuals. Such transformations, or their reverse, were part of the surprise and sense of wonder in three of the items on Thursday night's Erick Hawkins Dance Company program, the only bill not being repeated during the troupe's current run at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.
"Black Lake" begins as an epic. Its figures move not like temporal beings, eager in each muscle, but with stillness in many parts of the body. The composure of cosmic beings reigns on stage as the dancers, Gloria McLean in red and the others in black, execute designs in space. The phrasing of motion is subtly severe or impersonally vivid. In the pit, there are nebulas of sound, tonal clusters, pulsars of changing rhythms with silences as the only definable constellations; Lucia Dlugoszewski's music constitutes an expanse of continuous creation.
The music's primal character remains constant because of its perpetual change, yet on stage a humanizing element is eventually introduced. It appears in animal guise: The bears, when their stars appear in the great black lake of the night sky, are as cuddly as any teddy. After them, "Black Lake" never again seems inhospitable to mortals.
Hawkins' works, despite categorical transformations, have distinct characters. In "Trickster Coyote" there is a suggestion of mechanical dolls in the movement of the figures, although the apparent imagery is American Indian. "The Joshua Tree" has cinematic sweep, and its narration sometimes imitates silent-movie text titles. While "Coyote" is a funny tale with a sad side, "Joshua Tree" has a grisly ending despite its cartoon outlaws.
"Agathlon" seems to be the exception on the program, a work of one impulse -- it is about bodies dancing. What they perform is a step-rich assortment of movements, many of which are analogues of the balletic vocabulary. If there is any countercurrent to the work's Balanchinisms, it may be the sexy unisex tricots in which the cast of eight is dressed; Hawkins, a resolutely American choreographer, is totally committed to equality.
The pleasure of the live music on this, as on the other Hawkins bills, can't be overlooked. Glen Cortese conducted the Hawkins Theatre Orchestra and Chris Vassiliades was the pianist in "Black Lake" -- the first time anyone but Dlugoszewski has been at the keyboard for this work.