If the Choreographers' Showcase presented at Dance Place this past weekend was an accurate measure of the current state of dance in Washington, there's hope for the '90s. The 11 choreographers, chosen from a field of 27 who auditioned, represented a good mix of styles and interests, ages and degrees of experience.
More importantly, the level of professionalism was superior to that of recent years. The days of putting on whatever clothes are lying around on the floor and bopping to one's favorite tunes may be vanishing. Almost all of the works presented used challenging music (and wouldn't it have been nice if more than the composers' names were listed in the program?); all were based on substantive ideas, though not all, of course, were equally realized.
Most of the works concerned relationships of one sort or another, whether of emotional conflicts or the way different bodies and styles look when juxtaposed. Spider Kedelsky's "Civilization and Its Discontents: Take No. 6," billed as a work in progress, was a thoughtful movement essay on parent and child, dependence and independence, and owed much of its impact to the charms of Maria Codas as the spunky younger half of the family. Monique Staskiewicz and Lysa Nicholson's "Another View," to music by Ray Toler, dealt with a less literal interdependence, contrasting Staskiewicz's tense and spiky movements with Nicholson's serene and centered style.
Two of the works concerned women at war. Nancy Havlik's "Barrier Reef," a duet for Carmela Liebert and Patricia Rowland, pitted an aggressive woman against a passive one, showing the difference in character through a contrast in movements. The musical choreography was woven around one of Meredith Monk's haunting chant-songs. Another duet, "Icon: Funeral for a Friend," by Mary L. Kintner "and cast" (Pamela Aheran and Melissa Bass), though more literal, was less clear. Are we really to think that Marilyn Monroe was a murderess, or is this just a bitter ode to the eternal dominance of the Blonde?
Eric Hampton's balletic "Brief Encounters," set to some Scriabin preludes, was a game of musical hearts for five dancers, three women and two men, with Pamela Matthews usually the odd woman out. The work looked as though it would be happier on a bigger stage, and seemed emotionally out of sync with the rest of the program.
The most ambitious work was Hope Clark's "Somewhere It Goes," a very long piece in which three women and one man moved, slowly -- mostly walking or rolling around on the floor -- to flute music, played live by Sydney March, in front of huge projections of Byzantine church art. Sometimes the dancers yelped and made other odd noises. Oh, and they'd be upset if it weren't mentioned that, save for the odd tattoo, all were naked. (Dance Place Director Carla Perlo said the dancers had been dressed in black leotards and tights for the group's audition, and that is how the work was performed at its second show Sunday night.)
There was a lot to see in Amy Chavasse's "Mean Time," a well-structured piece about dancing set to the music of Aulis Allinen and Kevin Volans and a quietly clever text, by the choreographer, that played with time and place. Chavasse, late of the Laura Dean Dancers, was the standout with her high extensions and beautifully clear dancing, but all four women (the others being Matthews, Donna Gangloff and Lorena Cervantes) were showed to advantage in the work's brief solos and duets. Cervantes' "Raices Compartidas Otra Viz," to music by Inti-Illimani, was less complex, though equally well danced by Cervantes (listed as Lorena Racanelli), Gangloff and Chavasse. Vincent Cacalano and Jeff Gunshol's "Still Life No. 3 With Running," to music by This Mortal Coil, was an extremely brief, nonstop duet for Cacalano and Darla Heim.