Maria Castello focuses on feelings, Deborah Riley on meanings and Alcine Wiltz on moods. These concerns of the three choreographers, whose work the Center Dance Ensemble presented over the weekend in a program titled "Now and Then" at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, engendered variety. If only there'd been more excitement.
Wiltz, in "Sanctuary" and "Winds of Change," alludes to dance history, but it's the impressionism that is most vivid. In "Sanctuary" he showed what nymphs do with the afternoon after they've fled from young fauns. It seems they remember to move flatly, in two dimensions, though they don't do it as strictly as in Nijinsky's "L'Apres-midi d'un faune." It's as if they've loosened their girdles for Wiltz's sensual piece. There are three nymphs, and their bodies arc as they bend and stoop. Their legs cross autoerotically when they recline and when they step in scooping patterns from behind tall clusters of reeds. The foot rotations on a firmly planted heel are an especially nice development of the flatness idea. Quite compatible with this scene is Somei Sotok's music, even though it provides more contrast (particularly with piano trills at the end) than Wiltz's choreography.
In "Winds," a chain of five dancers and the decorative primitivism of Nancy Wiltz's costumes seem at first glance to allude to another Nijinsky work, "The Rite of Spring." The ambiance, though, is too gentle. In choreographing this piece to a Meredith Monk score, Alcine Wiltz is better at matching the music's initial playfulness and lyricism than its ultimate wild mirth. For the latter, he mimics the beat and misses Monk's sense of danger.
Castello's duet "Am I Still There" is cleanly crafted to a Cesar Franck work for violin and piano. Two women dance in parallel but their movement gradually diverges. They watch each other fondly, yet at the end it seems they'll part. Costumes by the choreographer for this and her two other pieces undoubtedly were intended to disguise the Center Dance Ensemble's far-from-ideal collection of bodies, but the clothing was so unattractive, particularly for the duet, that it became distracting. In "The Tear," Castello has given herself a long, arduous solo in the plastique style of the symphonic ballet of the 1930s, which she performed (to part of Brahms's Symphony No. 3) with commendable persistence but not enough elegance or dynamism. Her "Little Bits of Beatles" was a tame affair, a sort of jazz ballet hampered by the performers. The women were diligent rather than daring. Ronald Christy, the sole man on the program, moves supplely and with authority within a most narrow technical range.
Riley's "Eye to Eye," performed by four dancers from her own company, seemed more fragmentary than on previous occasions, when it evoked the tensions and attractions of women's relationships by dissecting them with a good deal of bite. On this bill, the repeated shifting of furniture seemed a stopgap for substantial choreography. A plethora of words interfered with Linda Fisher's music. All but one of the piece's motion themes seemed like dry, rudimentary exercises, and the exception, the "breaking mother's embrace" motif, was delivered in Riley's increasingly "objective," pedestrian manner. Not even Mary Buckley could have been spotted as a good dancer given this material.