The dancers look young yet adult in the Bresee Dansekompani. This was first and foremost among the favorable impressions made by the small Norwegian company in its debut last night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. Second was the imaginative stage design -- Rebecca Cross's painterly sets in "Daily News" and "Still Life," Anne-Liisa Silenti's use of cloth in "Shock," as well as Ulf Bjorklid's lighting scheme in " ... Tasting Sound." Kathryn Bresee, who choreographed all four works, doesn't make overly intricate dances but they are layered and one's response to them can be ambivalent.
Dancers in many companies often don't look fully adult, but those in the Bresee group seem mature beyond their years because they phrase movement so decisively and respond so individually to what they do and to each other. That the choreography of all the pieces except "Still Life" permits such independence while requiring strict discipline is one of its virtues.
The formal aspects of the works, though, are annoying. Bresee makes movement collages that don't add up from an inherent impulse and so she imposes climaxes and codas to give them artificial shape. In both "Daily News," a trio for women (Louise Bothner-By, Ingrid Meland and the choreographer) and " ... Tasting Sound," in which the trio is joined by two men (Paul Johnson and Jarck Benschop), passages of expressive action and long stanzas of pure technique alternate. These units ought to reflect on each other but don't. Dynamically they exist in isolation. What prevents them from becoming boring is the dancers' personal comment and their pristine technique.
In "Daily News," four of Cross's vividly painted potted plants frame a floor littered with newspapers. The dancers emerge from under the mess, and moving on top of pages add a crunchy, casual component of sound to Olav Anton Thommessen's anxious post-Schoenbergian score. It wouldn't be fair to reveal the real climax of this piece (there's another performance tonight), but it's a stroke of visual magic that's more Cross's doing than Bresee's. The music for "... Tasting Sound" by John Persen is full of scales of man-made and natural sounds, for which Bresee tries to meld expressive and technical dancing but achieves no real fusion.
"Shock," made in 1987, is a "partnered" solo for the choreographer. She's hurled onto the stage, tries to collect herself and dance, but then seeks to escape by throwing herself into the wings where she's caught and tossed back. Her partner never appears entirely, though on occasion one sees his hands. In this, the oldest work on the program, there is continuity and cumulation.
"Still Life" turns the stage into a potpourri of modern art styles. First one sees a huge still life painting by Cross. Then, awkwardly in semidarkness, panels are set up on either side of the picture to form a triptych. When the lights rise, one sees human forms on these panels and, surprise, they begin to move. The effects are interesting as patterned or solidly colored bodies shift against similar backgrounds, but the optical impact doesn't last, and the experiment becomes gimmicky. Pairing "Indic" music by the contemporary Philip Glass and the past century's Georges Bizet isn't any help either. Only one passage, a solo for tiny Ingrid Meland, stands out choreographically. Worst of all, Cross's paints and much of Bresee's choreography obliterate these very personal dancers's features.