When Eva Anderson's "The Elephant" was danced at the National Zoo last year, the real-life beasts hung their trunks over the fence and trumpeted along with the score so enthusiastically that zookeepers asked Anderson to turn down the music.
Anderson had lots of stories like this to tell during Friday night's performance by her Baltimore Dance Theatre at Mount Vernon College. She favors an informal concert where she can give background information about her dances, her methods and inspirations, and answer audience questions.
The stories are told in a light, conversational tone, as though Anderson were addressing guests in her home, and the same gentle hand is evident in her choreography. Anderson tackles weighty subjects -- John Brown's hanging and Harlem's teeming street life as well as the elephant dance -- and attempts to do so in a serious way. There's nothing slick or superficial in her work, or in the excellent dancing by her troupe of seven (four regular members and three apprentices).
Yet, despite the good intentions, the dances weren't very satisfying. That Anderson's movement vocabulary is out of fashion (these dances could have been made in the '40s) is less important than the fact that the steps just aren't put into interesting patterns, or made to illuminate the ideas in interesting ways. Surely there's more energy and edge to Harlem's night life than was shown here, more fight in the blues numbers Anderson described as "war songs." One expects more from a choreographer who made the elephants sing.