Doug Hamby, whose company Doug Hamby Dance hails from Baltimore, crafts mainly concept pieces, often in collaboration with up-to-the-minute technology. His choreography starts not with inspirational music or a poetic image but with an idea. Last year he taught a custom-made robot to dance in "Maurice Tombe."
In last weekend's local premiere of "Lakenheath" at Dance Place, Hamby's explorations of flight included projections of clouds from World War II paratrooper training films--exhilarating shots of misty puffs drifting by. A steadily building sound score by Stuart Dempster evoked the roar of engines. Brian Bagley was the solo dancer in a performance that couldn't quite match the soaring rush of the films or sound but nonetheless evoked billowing silk and arching wings.
Film was again a key component in "Calamus," also a premiere. Here Hamby used a technique he'd experimented with before: having camera operators shoot a dance live, showing the audience only the video and hiding the performers from view. The three dancers (Bagley, Dave Clark and Steven Kellert) performed behind strips of fabric hung like a curtain. Through small gaps, one could occasionally catch a glimpse of them, or the two camerawomen, though the full dance was visible only on a black-and-white video projected on a screen in front of the partitions.
"Calamus" is also the title of a Walt Whitman poem describing love among men. Accordingly, the three dancers lifted and caught one another, wrestled briefly and exchanged embraces. Steve Bradley's soundtrack pulsed with heartbeats and heavy breathing. This, along with the video characterized by superimposed images and double exposures, contributed to a disorienting but intriguing sense that more was happening behind the drapes than the audience was privy to.
The concept worked brilliantly--to a point. Merging and editing the video images simultaneously would seem to take unfathomable coordination and luck, and usually these qualities were present in abundance. But the piece went on too long. Some of the most arresting photographic techniques grew dull through overuse, and the images repetitious.
Hamby doesn't need to rely on technology, though his collaborative inclinations are refreshing and show he obviously doesn't need to be the only cook in the kitchen. But his dancier works attest to solid choreographic talent.
The program's one off note was "Cesa!," a directionless work in which the dancers chanted in Spanish. More successful was the uplifting "Quintet" for five women swept up in a brisk string-and-piano work by local composer Scott Pender. Julie Peoples, especially, moved with a pleasing quality at once weighty and fluid, like melted caramel.
"Opus 98," last year's tribute to soccer's World Cup, celebrated the relentless pace, reckless physicality and pure, adrenaline-charged fun of soccer. And Gail Beach's costumes--splendid throughout the evening--made a prescient fashion statement. Most of the women--like this year's female soccer stars--wore sports bras.
CAPTION: Hamby's "Calamus" is a celebration of male physicality and affection.