I FIRST CAUGHT choreographer Doug Elkins and his unhinged company on an "Alive From Off Center" broadcast on PBS. There they were, these burly men and wild women dressed in scruffy knee-length shorts and baggy jumpsuits, blithely partnering one another in the midst of New York's Seventh Avenue. Pedestrians seemed to take it all in stride -- in the Big Apple, dancing in the streets is business as usual -- but I was struck by their chutzpah and the refreshingly unstudied way in which they combined a variety of styles: street moves, martial arts, concert dance forms. Not to mention the fact that they were very, very funny.
Elkins's sense of humor and invention abounds in all that he does. A self-proclaimed "style thief," this student of judo, aikido, the Brazilian martial art form known as capoeira, modern dance and, especially, breakdancing creates works that are rather like nonstop collages. Fragments of music -- from Prince to opera -- conversations, gymnastic routines, relationships, quotes from other choreographer's stuff flash by; though they rarely "make a statement," his dances strike me as the choreographic equivalent of a clever commercial or a bracingly unconventional film. Taken separately, each wrangle, leap, shimmy or glance might appear interesting; it's the cumulative effect that's so dazzling to behold.
For the Washington debut, a joint presentation of the Washington Performing Arts Society and Dance Place, Elkins and company will perform three provocative works. "Patrooka Variations/Conspiracies of the Seduced," set to a wacky assortment of musical excerpts -- flamenco guitar, "Carmen" and James Brown -- is a virtuosic suite of dances that are at once competitive, mock-seductive and hilarious. "Just a dumb dream in a foreign bed," an equally eclectic group work chock-full of risky dives, flips, wriggles and other quirky movements, seems to suggest restless, dream-filled slumber.
Elkins's most recent effort, a work in progress entitled "Cerca de La Escuelita" ("In and Around the Little School"), takes its name from a night club in New York. According to the choreographer, the piece is a "glance at couple dancing and club styles, where gender treachery and salsa go hand in hand, foot to mouth, and nose to elbow." Expect some flashy line dances, and even a burst of the torrid lambada.
DOUG ELKINS DANCE COMPANY -- Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 4. Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. Call 202/269-1600.