Choreographer Marta Renzi -- a fairly frequent visitor to these parts -- and her New York-based Project Company came off looking more rough-hewn and off the cuff than ever Sunday evening at Dance Place. Perhaps it was just that they had appeared so majestic and superhuman three nights before, dancing in fountains and up high on a bar as part of the spectacular event that was "Union Station Dancing." Or perhaps it was simply the choice of material -- five pieces that had little in common except their ephemerality. Like a meal composed of appetizers, the concert left this spectator's aesthetic appetite piqued but hardly sated.
The program opened with "Joy and Her Daughters," a charming tribute to Renzi's late mentor, Joy Anne Dewey. Danced by three ladies in white nightgowns -- 6-year-old Irene Krugman; her slender dancer-mother, Cathy Zimmerman; and Deborah Jowitt, a statuesque, gray-haired creature who also is thedance critic for the Village Voice -- the piece speaks quietly of both guidance and independence. To John Morton's spare score, the dancers balance on invisible tightropes, send their arms across their chests in looping patterns, and at one point lie down one atop the other. None of these characters is ever truly fleshed out movement-wise, but the interaction between these souls is nevertheless touching.
"Penguin Dictionary of Science" features Renzi as an aging modern dancer a` la the Little Tramp. Dressed in black tights, white shirtwaist and Chaplinesque tails, she alternates between jigs, flourishes and quirky bouts of stiff, ache-induced freezes and crumblings. Mournful fiddling and a voice droning on accompany this unfocused eccentricity.
"Sacred Harp" is very much the opposite -- a full-bodied, fervent dance for three men (Thomas Grunewald, Nathaniel Lee, Robert Sorrentino) in practice garb. To the creepy, a cappella harmonies of the Alabama Sacred Harp Convention, they roll, jump straight up in unison, slap their thighs, swing their arms around like scythes. For all its passion, what's lacking here is a movement vocabulary that would more clearly represent a shared religion or cause.
"On Looking Through a Book of Indian Miniatures," the duet that had been performed in and around the edges of Union Station's fountains, looked and sounded very different in the small, plain Dance Place space. Thursday night, the water had turned this gloss on the Kamasutra into a sensual adventure. Sunday, accompanied by Daniel Wolff's steamy poetry, the piece had a far more clinical look about it. Grunewald and Marta Jo Miller seemed more like artists' models than lovers.
Only in "Artichoke for Two," one of the choreographer's older pieces, did Renzi's customary wit and wisdom come fully to the fore. As she and Lee cavorted through phrase after phrase of loose-limbed movement, she also elicited questions from the audience, and then offered answers both snappy and profound. This combination of set and spontaneous activity left me hungry for more of the same.