Word/Dance/Theater at American University

Cynthia Word makes small dances about big subjects. This is not always a good thing. On Sunday evening at American University's Greenberg Theatre, the Chevy Chase-based dancer and choreographer presented her five-year-old company, Word/Dance/Theater, in excerpts from her recent works. But the program ran into problems from the start. Word's opus-size themes -- death, love, birth, growing older -- outweighed her choreographic capabilities.

In the five excerpted sections of "States of Mind," a work threaded with overlapping stories of death, loss and birth told in a taped collage, movement invention was sparse. Dancers in succession lay prone, only to rise and take on the keening sway of the mourner. The women, heads shrouded by scarves, stooped, clasped hands and posed, again and again. The excerpt closed with "It Had Rained . . .," featuring childbirth stories. Although the dancers squatted and curved their backs, they lacked the necessary forcefulness to initiate movement directly from the pelvis, which would have more amply illuminated the choreographer's intent.

Word became a temptress and doppelganger to actress Sarah Pleydell in an excerpt from "Knots," a study of the indignities and indecisions of middle age. Pleydell's monologue, not quite wry enough, was interwoven with Word's lush, flowing arms and liquid torso. This same flow and liquidity informed "Close to Water," an excerpt from "My Mother's Gate: Body and Earth." The rolling, waving and rocking of bodies to a new-agey score by Martin Tillman was later contrasted in "Earth," where the dancers trembled their fingers and shot up their arms like spring tendrils sprouting from soil.

Word is intent on working in the genre of dance-theater, accompanying her works with spoken texts and striving for narrative forms, but in this program, primarily of excerpts from larger works, overall themes remained muddled in uninspiring choreography.

-- Lisa Traiger

M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem at 9:30

One used samples and scratching while the other featured live musicians, but the two acts that "co-headlined" Sunday night at the 9:30 club were well matched. Both Sri Lankan-bred, London-based chanter M.I.A. and New York's dance-punk LCD Soundsystem emphasized rhythm over melody, and energetic delivery over vocal range.

M.I.A. limited her political commentary to one remark about the failure of aid to reach the Tamil regions of her tsunami-devastated homeland. Behind her, however, video animations intimated much more: The images included tanks, bombs, fighter planes, stone-throwing youths and a loping tiger. (M.I.A.'s father was a member of the Tamil Tigers, a separatist guerrilla group.) The messages of the songs, among them "Pull Up the People," were less graphic, although clearly insurrectionary in tone if not content.

M.I.A. was backed by DJ Contra and vocalist Cherry, who doubled certain phrases and sang melodic passages, including the refrain to "Sunshowers." (M.I.A. has never claimed to be much of a singer.) Contra's additions were sometimes too busy, overcomplicating the elemental, heavily distorted music. Nothing, however, could overwhelm the joyous swagger of "Galang," M.I.A.'s signature anthem.

James Murphy is the only full-time member of LCD Soundsystem, which combines dance beats with punk demeanor. Onstage, the studio mastermind was joined by four other musicians, who animated his stark, beat-oriented material. Murphy doesn't have much stage presence, and his rough, artless singing merely bludgeoned numbers like the minimalist "Yeah" and the ironic "Losing My Edge." But metronomic drummer Pat Mahoney and modal guitarist Phil Mossman filled the breach, making the Soundsystem sound like a discofied (if Iggy-less) update of the Stooges.

-- Mark Jenkins