There's no classier touch for a dance group than to be accompanied by live music. Add specially commissioned scores and you've ventured onto risky but tantalizing territory. CityDance Ensemble, a brave and talented troupe of local dancers appearing Saturday at Dance Place, has made it something of a mission to commission accompaniment from local musicians. The effort has paid off handsomely, with complex and thoughtful music adding atmosphere and depth, even when the choreography was often left behind.
The two shortest works on last weekend's program were the most successful. Ludovic Jolivet's brilliant "Roger & Lucie," performed last June on a program with CrossCurrents Dance Company, was the evening's highlight. A sweetly witty and poignant duet with a mop, it showcased Jolivet's understated acting and musicality, bolstered by a sly tango composed and performed by Alejandro Muzio and his band.
Alvin Mayes's "Regret to Inform" distilled parents' grief over a fallen son into a few shattering movements--silent screams that echoed in jagged gestures, tense embraces full of air. It was a quietly beautiful portrait of the shifting dynamics of a couple near the breaking point.
In the longer works, focus was frequently lost or obscured.
"Life's Longing" was earnestly performed to a soft, moody score by Clifton Brackington and Francesca Jandasek (also a CityDance dancer). Its cast of eight took on varied roles--there was a muse, as well a mother, father, brothers and a daughter, all tracing moments from their past. But unless you had a penlight to follow along with the descriptions of the 10 vignettes, you couldn't distinguish one segment from the other. Whether composed as duets or trios, the movements had the same languid quality, and so did the music. Without structural signposts to signal what was most important out of the flow of images, the work's intent remained unclear.
Former Washington dancer Karen J. Reedy contributed "Cheating, Lying, Stealing," a group work that showed attention to craft but progressed little beyond the opening statement of tension and cruelty. Closing the program, CityDance Director Paul Gordon Emerson's "Peregrine" benefited greatly from its commissioned score by Matt Jones, Anderson Allen and Jodi Aleen Staub. The music, performed live, was a feast of polyrhythms, lush vocals, tender sax and runaway percussion. The choreography, meant to evoke flight, was performed with intensity but couldn't match the music's lift.