Showcase of Area Choreographers

A dance concert can be worthy without being good. So it was Saturday at the Takoma Theatre, where the DC Contemporary Ballet Festival's director, Robert Bettmann, generously brought together works by eight area choreographers for an evening of astounding mediocrity.

It's great to showcase area artists. But the works consisted of a great deal of noodling about en pointe, barefoot or in ballet slippers. The works meandered self-indulgently. Too often they were repetitive. A case in point: Two works by Jason Hartley of the Washington Ballet, "Nocturne Monologue" and "Underneath" ebbed and flowed with the same headlong rushes and introspective pauses. They may have accurately expressed Hartley's acrobatic muscularity and self-exploration, but what feels good to the dancer doesn't always sit well with the audience.

Nevertheless, these two works stood out on the program for the quality of the dancing, as did ARKA Ballet Executive Director Roudolf Kharatian's middling "Monologue of Narek," which was danced with gracious conviction by the Washington Ballet's Jonathan Jordan. Three youthful but promising dancers (Laura Allibone, Mary Beth Hansohn, and Devin Krahling) enlivened Casey Maliszewski's somber trio "Because Regret Is for Forever."

Also on the program were works by Heather Pultz, Vincent E. Thomas, Gesel Mason, Bettmann and El Teatro de Danza's Rafael Perdomo.

-- Pamela Squires

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

Saturday night at American University's Greenberg Theater, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange worked successfully in the realm of social commentary and political relevance. The message was effective, in part, because the company was made up of dancers of all ages possessing a depth and maturity of vision that dance technique alone cannot bring.

The gem of the evening was a work still in progress, "Scores for Salt and Snow in Three Episodes." An older woman produces a piece of lace and waves it ethereally in the air, proclaiming, "What lovely breezes are coming through the window." A black-skirted chorus of men and women behind her mimic her gestures in a more nuanced fashion.

Salt then falls to the earth captured in the skirt of a man who tells a story of alienation in the stereotyping of homosexuals. The men line up, each taking the salt in his hands like both burden and blessing. In the haunting final episode bodies are strewn about the ground. The company arises and dances, tense and close-fisted, only to play out its energy and retire to the ground. Finally, a young woman in distress makes veiled allusions to electrical cords and attacking dogs. The lights dim -- the story still too raw to finish.

"Anatomies and Epidemics," created in New York shortly after 9/11, was clearly marked by the sorrow of that tragedy. The dancers caress and hold each other in loving embrace only to lay each other to rest. The piece then takes on an antidote: an epidemic of laughter. In the end, the dancers are lined up in chairs across the stage miming gestures of joy and sadness that look eerily the same, a comment on the enduring human condition.

In "Dances at a Cocktail Party," Lerman and company build a collaborative work to celebrate and explore the music of Leonard Bernstein. Blurring the divide between conducting and dancing, the company members take turns at being backstage, onstage and in the audience. At one point an ad hoc group of party guests don hula hoops and maneuver the sparkling circles in a visual feast reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley musical.

-- Barbara Allen

Vincent E. Thomas was one of eight choreographers in Saturday's showcase. The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in "Anatomies and Epidemics."