Up until last night, the names Maria Castello and Lee Richmond conjured up only the vaguest of images. I seem to remember Castello once saving a performance of the Rockville-based Center Dance Ensemble by means of her regal bearing and considerable technical ability. More recently I'd enjoyed Richmond's plain but honest dancing in several of choreographer Deborah Riley's works. So when I heard that these two women were presenting an evening-length concert at the Dance Place, I really had no idea what to expect.
Happily, their collaboration turned out to be quite an ambitious and imaginative endeavor. The program consisted of four solos and four duets, more than half of them choreographed by Castello or Richmond, the rest by other area dancemakers. Though none were out-and-out masterpieces, most of these works managed to evoke a strong mood or a specific state of mind, and each allowed the dancers -- either as a team or as individuals -- to acquaint us with their very different stage personas.
Castello, a native of Argentina who trained in that country and has since performed with a number of Washington companies, is a dramatic, lyrical dancer with a lovely line and a pensive face. Richmond, who holds degrees from Denison and American universities and has both performed with and created work for a variety of local ensembles, approaches movement from a more pedestrian, weighty and humorous perspective.
These qualities infuse the duo's pieces as well. Castello's solo "Penelope" is a portrait of a shy, rather eccentric lass in a broad-brimmed hat and pink frock. She begins demurely, mincing about the stage clutching a woven bag; eventually she takes out a ball of yarn and proceeds to wind it about her neck and limbs in a dreamily neurotic manner. Even more compelling is her "Am I Still There?," a troubled reverie of a dance, set to a violin sonata by Cesar Franck, in which she plays moody lover? sister? to the more steady and devoted Richmond.
Richmond stole the show with "Stolen Goods," a brief, thoroughly unhinged solo by Kate Trammell that takes its cue from the crazed singing of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. First tearing back and forth across the space in a bathrobe, union suit and red sneakers, Richmond then proceeds to flail, swagger, grimace, strangle herself and collapse like some demented cartoon character. Her own duet, ironically titled "Inertia," puts herself and Castello through a droll drill of rhythmic rolling, colliding, falling and other antics -- made even nuttier by virtue of David Byrne's silly, brass-laden score.
Also on the program were Castello's "To Buenos Aires," a spicy, rhythmically inventive duet set to the tangos of Astor Piazzolla; Dianne Hunt's "Private Words," a long, inscrutable solo for Castello full of arm- and hand-wringing and leg extensions; Alvin Mayes's equally inscrutable "Rose Window," an amorphous, taffy-pull of a solo for Richmond; and Richmond's "Aisle Seat," one of those all-too-common and cutesy "chair dances" for two women and one ever-so-adaptable piece of furniture.
The always evocative lighting design was the work of Robin Lyttle.