Except for the fact that Washington dancers are a chatty lot, there aren't many generalizations one can draw from the exhilarating multi-genre, multicultural potluck supper of dance that opened Dance Place's 10th anniversary season this weekend. The three widely different programs, collectively called "The Washingtonian," that showcased the works of 12 choreographers and companies were as much a celebration of the diversity of D.C. dance as of the survival of the space that presented them.
Taken as a whole, there was an appealing casualness about the programs. Liz Lerman and Sharon Wyrrick, two of Washington's most accomplished choreographers, showed new works, but the rest of the dances were works in progress or old favorites or, it seemed, whatever was the freshest or most convenient piece in a company's current repertory. Nobody tried too hard, there was no attempt to concoct a "greatest hits" show, and consequently Dance Place put together a portrait of dance in Washington at this moment more accurate than any traditional festival or adjudicated showcase, and certainly more enjoyable.
The two premieres, both given at the final show Sunday night, were definitely the weekend's artistic high point. Lerman's "A Life in the Nation's Capitol" was danced with poignancy and power by Boris Willis. In this wrenching solo to excerpts from George Crumb's "Black Angels," Willis is imprisoned by the performing space that could represent a cell, an inner-city block or simply his mind. He paces and runs, at times angry, at times contemplative. It's a very physical, almost violent dance, and Willis moves big -- big leaps, violent rolls and flips, fast, furious turns. There isn't a wasted moment or movement in the piece, and Willis gave it a flawless and emotionally riveting performance.
Wyrrick's "On the Cutting Room Floor" is another chapter in her ongoing "Storyboard for an Anxious Journey." Like all her recent work, this one integrates words, movement and object accompaniments (it doesn't seem fair to call them props) into a visually exciting piece that is more than the sum of its parts. As in the other sections of "Storyboard," the work expresses concerns about the control of one's surroundings, in intimate or day-to-day relations as well as within the larger environment, but Wyrrick is never obvious and never self-important. In "On the Cutting Room Floor," she's a gardener who nurtures, then attacks her plants, a friend who mourns a friend, a dancer who connects the motion of swinging with playground memories, the rush of the heart's blood and the heady feeling of being in control and out of it at the same time. It's all tied together through poetry, movement, the sound of children's voices reciting the names of flowers in tones that invest them with magic power, and the floating layers of cloth in Wyrrick's flowered costume.
Word dances are definitely in these days. Lesa McLaughlin's "Losing Ground" artfully weaves what could be intermission chatter about urban horrors through a dance that explores trust and suspicion. The five dancers support and carry -- or drop -- each other in unexpected combinations. Deborah Riley's "Countdown 2000," which opened the series, was rather overwhelmed by a text that was little more than a list of women's organizations and men's sins, delivered by actress Joni Lee Jones as though it were a work of sublime dramatic poetry. Other dances found content from a taped narration, like Alvin Mayes's pleasant "Souvenirs," which describes the end of an affair, or musical accompaniment, like Ajax Joe Drayton's "Champion of This Corner: Shadowbox," a rap music skit about a young man who takes on imaginary foes while waiting for a bus.
With the exception of Maida Withers's dry "Migration No. 1," which was dwarfed by the huge slides of Western scenic magnificence projected around it, and Mark Taylor's "Throb," danced impressively by Donna Gangloff, the other works were firmly grounded in the emotions. Carla Perlo's brief solo "The Flight of Time" was the perfect vehicle for a newly unretired dancer. In Adrain Bolton's "Givin' Up," a quartet of women danced the blues with the whole-souled and fervent ferocity that Bolton so successfully coaxes out of dancers. In Kevin Jeff's overly long "Mood," a trio of consenting adults (two men and a woman) played hunt and tease. His "Juntos," which closed the series, put five couples from the D.C. Contemporary Dance Theater in lavender spangles and had them shake a bit to Pat Metheny's elevator music.
KanKouran West African Dance Company blew the roof off Friday night with two jubilant dances, one to celebrate a birth, the other a coming of age. Both seemed especially appropriate to this particular place and this particular time.