Remember back when dance was all you needed? Dance, pure and simple, bodies that could do anything, be anything, say anything. Lovely dancers alone on a stage, conjuring a world.
Well, forget all that. Now dance is a part of a whole, and that whole can be a whole lot of something else. Many of the most intriguing performances coming up this season take a multimedia approach, relying not just on the impact of bodies in motion but also on bodies on videotape, bodies manipulated by computers and projected onto scrims, bodies done up like sci-fi creations on a moonscape. Dancers dancing, yes, but also dancers reciting poetry and sloshing paint.
The first among these is a new piece by Bebe Miller, returning to the area after a seven-year absence. (See related story, Page N6.) The world premiere of her "Landing/Place," at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Wednesday through Friday, mixes live video images with video recordings, computer animation and motion-capture technology, transforming physical movement into a 3-D image that can be morphed and maneuvered. In between the two scrims that will carry these images will be flesh-and-blood dancers.
Among the most eagerly anticipated collage approaches is that of Shen Wei Dance Arts, performing at the Eisenhower Theater Oct. 21-22. Wei, presented as part of the Kennedy Center's Festival of China, was a founding member of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, China's first foray into contemporary dance. Wei lives in New York and has been gathering attention as one of the most original voices in modern dance. This is largely because of his unconventional approach to standard materials. His "Rite of Spring," for instance, part of the upcoming program, disregards the narrative of ritual sacrifice embedded in the Stravinsky score, presenting instead strictly abstract interpretations of the fierce rhythms, performed in an arrangement for two pianos.
Wei's work draws on theatrical elements common to Chinese opera as well as abstract visual art. "Folding," also on the program next month, features Tibetan Buddhist chants, a painterly watercolor backdrop and dancers with an alien look: Headdresses elongate their skulls, their torsos are bare (or disguised as such) and lengths of red and black fabric trail from their waists. Wei creates the costumes and sets with the eye of a sculptor, while his choreography is spare and stylized.
That same weekend, things will be a little less controlled at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center ("reckless" even, according to press materials), where five dancers from the Brian Brooks Moving Company will gradually spatter a white stage space with paint and props, while colorful lighting kicks in to complete the kaleidoscopic effect. The Brooklyn-based Brooks was inspired by puppetry and animation in this work, titled "Pinata."
One of the most interesting local dancers, Nejla Y. Yatkin, will perform a multimedia solo Nov. 5-6 at Dance Place that draws on the myths and questions that surround exotic dancer and presumed World War I spy Mata Hari.
"DEconstructing Mata Hari" links Eastern traditions of movement and contemporary dance with film, poetry and Yatkin's own story as a German-born woman of Turkish and Egyptian descent. Yatkin's previous solo works have been richly layered in arresting visual images, powerful technique, lush costuming of Yatkin's own design and thought-provoking voice-overs. The mystery and allure of Mata Hari -- the woman who blew a kiss to her executioners -- seems an ideal subject for Yatkin's sensual, mosaic-style exploration.
There's a certain simplicity to some of the other offerings, particularly the tap performances, which feature the direct and unadorned pleasures of straight-up dance and imaginatively chosen music. Savion Glover will kick off the national tour of "Classical Savion" Oct. 13-14 at the Music Center at Strathmore. The show is the ever-inventive Glover's foray into mixing his signature brand of hard-hitting tap dance with Vivaldi and others of the old school.
The local troupe Tappers With Attitude, which counts Broadway tapper Baakari Wilder and R&B talent Mya Harrison among its alumni, celebrates its 15th anniversary at Dance Place on Dec. 10-11. The next weekend will see song-and-dance man Tommy Tune and song-and-dance trio the Manhattan Rhythm Kings joining forces in "Taps, Tunes and Tails" at Strathmore on Dec. 16-17. Tune and the Kings have collaborated since the '80s; in this show they pay tribute to Broadway composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Kander and Ebb.
Not too many surprises in store from the ballet world, at least not as of press time. We're holding out hope that American Ballet Theatre, which will perform Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie's "Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Dec. 7-11, will offer something new for January; its raft of repertory works slated for Jan. 31-Feb. 2 had not yet been decided. The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, here this past June with George Balanchine's "Don Quixote," will be back Nov. 22-27 at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater with works by Balanchine and Belgian choreographer Maurice Bejart, with whom Farrell danced for part of her career. Also at the Eisenhower Theater, the Washington Ballet reprises Artistic Director Septime Webre's "Carmen" and Balanchine's "Serenade," adding Twyla Tharp's jazzy "Nine Sinatra Songs" for an unorthodox mix, Nov. 2-6. The National Ballet of Canada performs former director James Kudelka's "Swan Lake" at the Opera House on Jan. 17-22.
A more global perspective is to be found among the offerings of the National Ballet of China, performing programs of mixed repertory and a full-length ballet, "Raise the Red Lantern," at the Eisenhower Theater on Oct. 4-8, and in the Kennedy Center's "Proteges: The International Ballet Academy Festival," at the Opera House on Jan. 26-29. This has to be one of the oddest offerings of the center's season, a program danced entirely by students. The children will be drawn from ballet schools around the world, some legendary (Russia's Vaganova School, home of Mikhail Baryshnikov, for example, and England's Royal Ballet School) and others of a decidedly lower profile. (Anyone heard of the New National Theater of Japan Young Artists Training Program?) It could be endearing and revealing, or it could be . . . a lot of other things.
It was 25 years ago that Carla Perlo founded Dance Place as the area's most active stage for dance of all stripes, and Perlo and longtime co-director Deborah Riley are celebrating that mark with a benefit performance Saturday called "Partners Project: Together & Dancing." All of the evening's works (there will be more than a half-dozen) are duets by partners such as Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman, who have spent their careers together, and aerial artists Sharon Witting and Andrea Chastant. The partnership theme "talks a lot about who we are," Perlo said recently, "Nurturing folks over a career, the creation of new work and encouraging people to work together."
Among the other modern-dance performances of note are the welcome return of the fine Limon Dance Company, with works by the impeccable craftsman and visionary Jose Limon, at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater for two nights, Nov. 2-3; Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company with a solo and a full-company work at the Eisenhower Theater on Nov. 17-19; and Joe Goode Performance Group, which blends dance with Goode's deeply personal and often wickedly funny strain of storytelling, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Jan. 27-28.