American Repertory Dance

March 12, 1999

American Repertory Dance Company

Harold M. Williams Auditorium, The Getty Center

March 12­13, 1999

Reviewed by Pamela Hurley Diamond

Delving deeply into the heart and soul of modern dance classics, American Repertory Dance Company’s program of reconstructed solos at the Getty Center proved once more the timeless power of simplicity coupled with excellence. The concert, created especially for the museum’s concurrent exhibit of ³Dance in Photography,² dusted off eight gems by modern dance pioneers, five of which were company premieres. The dancers performed the newly polished works on a shallow proscenium stage that subtly echoed the pieces’ original performance spaces.

At its best, this was a program driven by details‹movement motifs as quick as the flick of a wrist‹dappled with evocative, symbolic images and lit from within by strong, spirit-filled performances. But when one element fell off, it muddied the effect of the whole. Victoria Koenig’s re-creation of an excerpt from Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides: Prelude (1909) was exacting but static. Stepping through the choreography, Koenig’s precise pointework revealed capable technique yet nothing of the ephemeral sylph. By contrast, Nancy Colahan glowed as an alabaster frieze come to life in Ruth St. Denis’s 1918 solo Greek Veil. With simple yet pure poses‹back arched, head cradled in the crook of her arm‹she effectively summoned the muse.

A trio of solos from the 1920s and 1940s introduced a vivid spectrum of emotional hues, starting with the dark vigor of John Pennington in three studies from Harald Kreutzberg’s 1927 Tœnze vor Gott (³Dances before God²), in which Pennington embodied inner strength, his gray-caped figure a silent power struggling with the unseen, propelled to movement by starkly emotive gestures of despair and torment‹hands pressed to forehead, fists beating the air, and arms imploring the empty sky. Muted yet poignant, Bonnie Oda Homsey mirrored woman’s turmoil in love, impelled by music and emotion along a well-trod path, trapped in the backward-forward circling bourrées of Valerie Bettis’s The Desperate Heart (1943). Next came the deftly comedic Carole Valleskey falling out of pirouettes to sit doll-like on the floor, as sunshine yellow as her tutu in Agnes de Mille’s lighthearted tribute to a Degas pastel, Debut at the Opera (1928).

Quick, hopped spins and crazy-legged handstands capped Douglas Nielsen’s quirky gestures in the somewhat overlong restaging of Charles Weidman’s On My Mother’s Side, which closed the concert. Insightful and humorous, Nielsen used loose-limbed pantomime and deftly nuanced expressions to create the characters, male and female, of Weidman’s relatives, all the while working up to an evolution of dance: Chaplin’s walk, the Charleston, Isadora Duncan, and the beginnings of the modern aesthetic. As with one of Bettis’s full circles, there we were again, right back where we started.