As the curator of "D.C. Artists Past and Present" at Dance Place last weekend, Karen Bernstein chose works that reflected on one another, though no two were from the same mold. The three duets on the program made one particularly aware of how modern romance has changed technical aspects of dancing. Partnering -- giving support and doing the lifting -- used to be one person's job, the man's, and this grounded him much of the time. With gender equality as the current ideal, choreographers are exploring more dynamic interactions.
In "Shepherd Moon," choreographed and performed by Rodger Belman and Amy Chavasse, the woman seems the more sustaining figure at first. Belman appears from behind Chavasse, as if he'd just been born, and she steadies him in the swaying motion that she already knows how to control.
The entire duet seems to take place in changing tides of gravity and longing. The loops of movement, the lifts, the lowerings, the knee bends sometimes have the freedom of outer space, then suddenly they are pulled into the floor. Often the two dancers are drawn to each other, their outstretched arms like compass needles, but they're also spun apart as in a centrifuge and, at the end, subject to a repelling force as they barely miss making contact. Long silences, the occasional slap of impact, and Terry Riley's chords, clustered and scattered, abetted this dance's cosmic feeling. The performing by both partners was very strong.
Rachel Lampert's "After the Fact" was a mundane version of modern romance, with Belman and Linda Garner Miller engaging in mutual partnering, illustrative movement and a few showoff steps. There was no cumulative impact as the choreography trailed after a meandering text, also by Lampert. Equality wouldn't have suited Petrarch's sonnet on seeing someone with an angel's manner here on earth, and Doug Varone's duet to Franz Liszt's musical setting of the poem resorted to almost stereotypic characterizations of traditional male and female roles in courtship. Alvin Mayes was a rock of stolidity and strength as he shielded and sustained the hand-fluttering, swooning female portrayed by curator Bernstein. Varone's work, despite elements of caricature, captures both the concise form of the song and its flamboyant pathos.
Different principles held the dancers together in two group works. Jan Van Dyke's "A Sense of Order" is mechanistic. Three dancers (Phillippa Clarke, Darlene Errett and Kelly Scherf) move together across the stage in a flat plane, accompanied by Frank Vulpi's percussive score. Though they separate in distance, in shifting patterns of two vs. one and then all three singly, the force field among them is never broken, so skillfully are the planes of motion arranged. The flatness of stance and action becomes rounded; paths at right angles are replaced by diagonals and circles that contain mini-circles. Steps become more virtuosic, yet the grand ground plan of it all never blurs. This is a cold piece, though, perhaps because it never threatens to explode and, after it has grown, it returns so neatly to its origin.
Harriet Williams's quartet "Lichterloh" is built organically of jazz ballet with a country lilt (to music by Friedemann) that, curiously, gives the movement a modern rather than old-fashioned look. There are distinct variations for Mayes, the choreographer, elegant Chavasse and lively Lucy Bowen, but the ensembles become repetitious and the work, overall, is cute -- a quality that also mars Beth Davis's solo "Snippets and Nonsequiturs." As a performer, Davis has an extremely agile torso. Her backbends are extraordinary. Such a body deserves to be taken seriously.