Cynthia Thompson and Kate Trammell keep getting better and better. The two dancer-choreographers, who are also faculty members at James Madison University, have been producing witty and incisive dances since 1984, but the work they showed at Dance Place this weekend went beyond that. Each of T&T's jointly or individually choreographed dances was a rich compendium of music, movement and mood. The wit often came from words as well as steps, and the duo's control of both the atmosphere and the emotional effects of their work was especially deft.
Thompson and Trammell's dances have a decisively feminine bent; femininity, in fact, is often their subject. Sometimes this can be wryly polemic, as in Thompson's "(She Was a) Pink Chameleon," a group word-dance that explores bitterness and loneliness through the pretext of poking fun at stereotypes ("There came a time when she did not like pink") and female foibles ("Her hobby was assimilating mannerisms"). Sometimes it's simply a matter of orientation, as in Trammell's quiet and gentle "Courtship Dance," a duet with William Seigh whose undulating patterns of movement and notions of freedom and sharing are quite the opposite of the stereotypical male fascination with the pas de deux form as an expression of geometry and manipulation.
And sometimes, as in the intricate and very beautiful "A Clock, a Cradle, a Voice Calling," it's nothing so specific, just a collection of images and motions that ebb and flow around Jonathan Romeo and Cecil Hooker's dreamy music with the clear insistence of a mountain brook. In this jointly choreographed dance, which makes reference to children's tales, mothers' fears and Doris Humphrey's "Soaring," the two are rosy goddesses from a Maxfield Parrish painting, gamboling about in the moonlight with a large and lovely square of patterned silk. The silk is a cloak to be shown off, a gift that bonds, but never binds; the movements are lush and languorous, and never insipid.
As performers, the two are perfect complements. Thompson, conventionally pretty and deceptively prim, can dance with exceptional clarity one moment and go giddy the next. Equally contradictory, Trammell's spare and wiry frame can become surprisingly soft; her no-nonsense demeanor shields a mischievous streak.
These attributes were used especially well in Shane O'Hara's nutty "Guzu Guzu," in which the two women and O'Hara and Seigh embarrass one another with uninhibited noises and silly movements, and in Meriam Rosen's funny, fractured and frenetic "Schizophrenic Girl."
The program was enhanced by live music; the musicians, and the audience, were rewarded with two "musical interludes." Guitarist Romeo and violinist Hooker's "Prelude" and "Jamaica" were mellow and melodious. Gary Green, who not only provided harmonica accompaniment for "Pink Chameleon" but acted as a shadowy Pied Piper for the gaggle of girls in that dance, contributed an equally pretty "Robin's Daydream."