A group of young, likable, strong dancers returned to the Washington area last week as part of Black History Month programming at Prince George's Publick Playhouse. Better known as the Philadanco than by its full name (Philadelphia Dance Company), this 18-year-old troupe's amalgam of ballet, jazz and modern dance has become a model for similar troupes around the country -- including our DC Contemporary Dance Theater.
Philadanco's artistic director Joan Myers Brown has a knack for developing performers who are outgoing and flashy when needed, yet retain a sense of good taste no matter what the circumstances. In fact, the dancers had to clothe themselves in their dignity often during the course of the evening program because Brown seems to have a penchant for choosing choreography far from first rate. Three pieces -- Robert Weiss' vacuous neo-harem fantasy "At the First Stroke"; Tobin Green's gospel-jazz-based but mechanical "Bound to Be Free"; and Elisa Monte's "Dreamtime," a piece of jazz dancing for zombies -- relied on unison movement that fell boringly on the beat of their respective sound scores. None of these works gave the Philadelphians, who seem quite individual, the chance to explore personal potential or refine their strengths.
Milton Myers' mating rite "The Element in Which It Takes Place" did focus on threesomes, couples and individuals but in ways borrowed from better ballets about sexual encounter. Myers' version of primitivism and passion elicited titters from the audience, though one matron promptly marched a group of children out into the lobby.
It was finally in Talley Beatty's syncopated "A Rag, a Bone, and a Hank of Hair" that the dancers were given some substantial, diversified movement. One could see tall David Rose's powerful propulsion polished by a sense of privacy, Kim Bears' joy in smoothness and short Carlos Shorty's balletic bounce and beats, and that young Michael Donaghy is eager yet still timid. Danielle Gee's supple balances and sweeping extensions were showcased in an Aileyish solo by Billy Wilson, but she was badly costumed and coiffed for a feature role in the Monte work.