Spunkier than last time, when they danced at the Kennedy Center, the Urban Bush Women tackled movement from continents as distinct as North America and Africa and ideas from realms as different as a mystic's visions and a schoolgirl's games. David Moore's shadows and lighting cradled the diverse images that occurred in all four works presented last night at the Publick Playhouse and helped to unify Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's restless choreography.
Zollar's is a mind that never seems to stay still for long. At its most acute, in "LifeDance II ... The Papess," the images it creates seem to last. Chronically, though, Zollar can become so impatient that it is easier to recall the rate of change in her works than their substance.
"Papess" is a solo Zollar dances with her back to the audience much of the time. When she faces us it is a shock to see not the characters we expected but almost their opposites. The fancy lady who bends her body and angles her arms turns slovenly and becomes besotted; the stripper transforms into a soul bent on self-sacrifice. All but one of Zollar's changes are perfectly timed so one can't see them coming. Before she strips, however, there is a dead spot that tempts one to guess ahead.
The roots of Zollar's dance images show, yet she's not a descriptive choreographer. "Bitter Tongue" clearly is based on African movement -- wings beat in "Meditation on Angels" while mortals walk with a heavy rural tread -- but the dynamics in both pieces are those of the American city. Even when the locale could be a U.S. metropolis, as in "I Don't Know, but I've Been Told If You Keep On Dancin' You'll Never Grow Old," the choreography rips past school kids' activities on a roller coaster that frustrates the Urban Bush Women's attempts to revert to childhood. In this case, haste helps Zollar keep the work's shape. Impatience is an unusual tool for a formalist, but then so is the aid of a lighting designer.
The guest and foil of the seven Urban Bush Women was chanting, drumming Junior "Gabu" Wedderburn.