Be careful what you wish for, especially if it involves inviting a dancing master into your home. This was the lesson offered by a funny vignette drawn from a 17th-century journal and presented by Big Dance Theater this weekend. It was executed by two dancers who were in curly French wigs and mod metallic jeans and who spoke breathlessly into retro microphones about the joys of learning the latest steps.
As we soon learned, the master’s minuet led to some extramarital hanky-panky with the wife.
Nothing went according to plan for the quirky characters in the brief works that Big Dance Theater performed at American Dance Institute, in Rockville, Md. They were part of a world-premiere program called “Big Dance: Short Form.” With their extraordinary commitment and lack of self-seriousness, the performers had our sympathies all the way through, from the neurotic rustic who was toting around her own electric logs in “Summer Forever” to the morose theater crew in “Goats,” which was rehearsing a passage from the children’s novel “Heidi,” despite the meltdowns of the group’s potty-mouthed director.
Dance and theater waltzed to their own rhythms throughout the evening. Local audiences may recall this seamless mix of disciplines from previous works performed by director Paul Lazar and his wife, choreographer Annie-B Parson, who run the Brooklyn-based troupe. In 2013, for example, Mikhail Baryshnikov joined them for “Man in a Case,” a program of short stories by Anton Chekhov. The former ballet star didn’t dance much, but every move and gesture held the eye, just as they did in Friday’s more raucous series of works.
As witty as the lines about the dancing master were in “The Art of Dancing,” spoken with keen comic timing, what stays in the memory are the formal baroque poses and perfect synchrony of the dancers as they swept lightly about the space. This was the reason that dancing was so coveted by aristocrats of that era: Effortless mastery of one’s actions, then as now, is a rare and wonderful thing. How rewarding to experience Big Dance Theater’s display of it.