BLONDELL CUMMINGS, Susan Marshall and Wendy Woodson are three choreographers who came of age artistically at a time when theatrical boundaries and conventions were being questioned and destroyed with fierce regularity. Each of these women has since forged a personal style that carries these precepts to varying extremes.
Cummings, one of the finest actress-dancers around, got her start as an original member of avante garde guru Meredith Monk's performance collective. A short, compact woman with a chameleon-like ability to alter her face, posture and gestures as required, she has portrayed such characters as a nun, a mother, a domestic and a construction worker.
Her latest character study is a historical one. In "For J. B." -- the first act of which will be presented here Saturday night under the auspices of District Curators -- she plays the legendary entertainer Josephine Baker. Set to period music and a specially commissioned score by Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter/composer Lester Bowie, this work in progress begins with Josephine's early years in St. Louis, and chronicles her audition for the ground-breaking black musical "Shuffle Along" in the early '20s, just prior to her taking Paris and the world by storm.
A graduate of the Julliard School, Susan Marshall has been choreographing since 1982, formed her small ensemble the following year and has since received a number of prestigious commissions from many a ballet and contemporary dance company. Very much interested in all things psychological, she has crafted a number of intense pieces that address mental illness, familial interaction and all manner of relationships. Her latest venture, the much lauded group study "Contenders," uses the rituals and challenges associated with long distance running to probe some dark corners of the human mind. Set to a score by veteran experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, the evening length's work, which had its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will be danced -- in running gear -- by Marshall and the seven other members of her first-rate troupe Friday at George Mason University.
Those of us who have spent the last decade or so dance-gazing watched Wendy Woodson formulate her charmingly eccentric artistic stance. Now a professor at Amherst College, this tall, gawky gal has a wonderful way with real and imaginary languages, everyday gestures and the fine line that separates laughter from lunacy. Her multimedia pieces are often collaborative efforts: Her Present Company Inc. includes performance artists, writers and musicians. Their performances this weekend at Dance Place will feature a variety of new solos and duets that touch on memory, politics, relationships and more.
BLONDELL CUMMINGS -- Saturday at 8 at the Ellington Theater, 35th and R streets NW. Call 202/783-0360.
SUSAN MARSHALL AND COMPANY -- Friday at 8 at the Harris Theatre on the campus of George Mason University. Call 703/764-7970.
WENDY WOODSON AND PRESENT COMPANY INC. -- Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 4 at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. Call 202/369-1600.