Sharing a stage with children and grandmothers is risky business. It's tough for performers to look good when they're up against the natural audacity of cute kids or the warm poignancy of big mamas.
But Jane Franklin and Vincent E. Thomas, two area choreographers based respectively in Arlington and Baltimore, took the gamble Saturday night at Dance Place, where their shared bill, Side by Side, featured a gaggle of tender-footed girls under 12 and -- on video only -- a handful of certified senior discount holders.
Franklin works remarkably well with children, teasing out of them movements that rarely look canned or forced. For her silkily wistful "Blue Moon," a quartet of young performers joined nine adult dancers from Jane Franklin Dance in a lyrical study supported by the spare strings of a John Cage score. While Franklin set up a gamelike structure requiring dancers to follow -- then join in and replace -- a leader, it wasn't necessary to know her intention for the piece to succeed.
Franklin continued her reliance on aspects of play in "Games," a slight work informed by rambunctious games people play from bowling to races, with an emphasis on weighted and feather-light approaches to the body. The piece "Side by Side" brought Franklin and Thomas together for a long-winded duet that said nothing at all through choreography or spoken dialogue.
"The Grandmother Project," a work featuring video, slides, spoken reminiscences and choreography by Thomas, mined the deeply felt connections of grandmothers and their grandchildren. Thomas corralled young dancers from Towson University's Children's Dance Division, who giggled, skipped and played hand-clapping rhythm games in this memory-infused piece. Thomas's solo to the affecting spiritual "Motherless Child" unfurled with an intensity lacking in the rest of the program.
-- Lisa Traiger