On a moment-to-moment basis, watching the silkily luxuriant, virtuosic, seductively labyrinthine movement of the Nina Wiener Dance Company is its own self-sufficient reward.
The sheer quality and variety of the movement, and the lacquered expertise of its execution by the dancers, gives one an inebriating kinesthetic high. It's an immediate, visceral pleasure, and it requires no exterior justification in terms of form or meaning.
All this was evident throughout the troupe's program at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater Tuesday night, as part of the "Dance America" series. This was its Kennedy Center debut, though the group has appeared intermittently at various sites in the environs since its founding in 1976, most recently at Howard Community College last January. The troupe's Terrace Theater performances came on the heels of its third engagement, last month, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's prestigious Next Wave Festival.
Nevertheless, the whole seemed less than the sum of its parts. In the long run the instant gratifications of Wiener's choreography tended to pall. Despite the sensual allure of the movement in its particulars, and the mesmerizing enhancements of music, lighting and costumes, none of the evening's three works seemed to add up to anything substantive in the way of a dance statement.
The titles -- "Wind Devil," "Fierce Attachments" and "Transatlantic Light" -- along with the prominent gestural aspects of the choreography, appear to promise emotional or dramatic subtexts to these works -- significance, in other words, beyond a purely abstract, morphological play of tensions and rhythms. But the promise isn't fulfilled. One can't escape the feeling that Wiener wants her dances to be "saying" something, but what that something is remains elusive in the extreme.
There's a sameness of texture and character to the works that can't be completely attributed to the inevitable recurrences of step and shape that mark a given choreographer's style. If, in fact, the titles were transposed, would audiences be any the wiser? Going by what one actually saw transpiring on stage, "Wind Devil" would have seemed as apt a label as "Transatlantic Light" for the latter piece, and one looked in vain for a choreographic rationale of any kind for "Fierce Attachments," in the piece so named.
Nor is the difficulty just a matter of misleading designation. Calling these pieces "Etudes" or something equally innocuous wouldn't solve anything, because they aren't sufficiently coherent as abstractions. From the standpoint of larger formal units, the choreography of all three works looks disconcertingly arbitrary. The paradox is that the individual movements are unambiguously delineated and sharp in profile, and strung together they establish a fluent continuum. But stepping back from details, the parts don't complement or reinforce one another in an architectural sense. They simply go on and on -- and on -- all trees and no forest.
"Wind Devil (Part I)," to an attractively burbling score by Sergio Cervetti, was marked by playfulness, especially conspicuous in one couple's toe-against-toe contest, evocative of children's games. But the end, with three of the five dancers spotlighted in rooted positions, seemed totally unrelated to the rest.
The excerpt from the recently premiered "Fierce Attachments," to music by Lucia Hwong featuring heavy breathing and Chinese instruments and modes, hinted vaguely at erotica, pitting a lengthy male solo tinged with tai chi motifs against surrounding ceremonies by five women dressed in Robin Klingensmith's pale, satiny slips.
"Transatlantic Light," to another atmospheric score by Cervetti and featuring Dutch artist Keso Dekker's chic plastic hangings, suggested seashore frolicking here and there. Toward the middle came a solo for a woman startlingly unlike everything else -- a sequence of distinct short motifs such as a pointing finger, muscle-flexing poses, flicking a fly from a shoulder and a sexy wag of hips, repeated literally a short time later to different music and lighting.
The excellent dancers were Valerie Bergman, Mauri Cramer, Diane Elshout, Thomas Grunewald, Jodi Melnick, Byron Richard and Erin Thompson.