Hooray for Ailey, 'Dance on the Edge'

December 30, 1990|By J. L. Conklin

In keeping with this season of good cheer, there's much to applaud in looking back over the past year's dance events. But Scrooge is not silenced completely. Alas, there were also a few moments in 1990 that dance watchers would just as soon forget.

A big "Hooray!" went up when the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre agreed last summer to make Baltimore a part-time operating base. After months of hearsay and rumor, company director Judith Jamison found this city economically and culturally charming enough to plunk herself and her company at the Peabody; the residency began with master classes taught by Ms. Jamison at Morgan State in October and will continue when the full company arrives in a couple of weeks for a monthlong residency.

One can take heart from this development: If one world-class dance company finds Baltimore's climate agreeable, then perhaps the area can begin to be recognized as a fertile region for home-grown dance and not just a Broadway pit stop.

The jury is still out, of course, on what impact the Ailey's presence will have on local funding issues and whether or not area dance companies will benefit from the spotlight that the Ailey will undoubtedly draw. Provincial Baltimore has cast a somewhat wary eye toward the arts -- but maybe having a famous dance company in our midst will foster an increased audience and financial interest in contemporary dance.

Cheers are equally due to the Dance on the Edge Series. Diane Ramo and her Downtown Dance Company along with the Baltimore Museum of art deserve a resounding "Yes!" for bringing some of the most outstanding talent east of the Mississippi to the BMA. Memorable performances included the Ralph Lemon Dance Company and its dramatic and evocative work, "Sleep"; Doug Varone, whose witty musicality was matched by his technical abilities; and Maureen Fleming's "Water on the Moon," which alluringly blended Japanese theatrical conventions with performance art.

Two arts festivals -- Artscape and the Columbia Arts Festival -- both introduced dance to audiences normally outside of the coterie of regular concertgoers. Both festivals provided a venue for local dancers and companies, and the Columbia Arts Festival brought the renowned Pilobolus Dance Theater to the area. Its performance at Wilde Lake High School sold out and was enthusiastically cheered by those who witnessed one of the hottest performances in the area.

Another highlight of the year was John Curry's work "On the Blue Danube," performed by Baltimore's ice dance company, the Next Ice Age, at the Northwest Ice Rink. Mr. Curry recently received a choreographic award from the Capezio Company, and anyone who saw him and the Next Ice Age perform the inspiring work last spring shouldn't be at all surprised.

On the downside, because of financial and organizational difficulties the Baltimore Dance Network virtually disappeared, taking with it all semblance of coordinated dance events. There is a disturbing lack of organization among local dance companies. Sure, it's a competitive world out there, and money is tight -- but if the companies talk and share with each other, just perhaps they could generate better publicity and create a solid roster of performances in the city -- not to mention a little muscle for loosening some funding. Baltimore's dance audience not large enough to support two or three dance events on the same weekend. Conflicting performance dates only hurt local companies that even in the best of times have trouble drawing a sizable crowd.

The dance scene itself seems to be in a flux, most likely because of the absence of a central dance space similar to D.C.'s Dance Place. Without one dominant venue, companies must scrounge for performing and rehearsal space. Kathy Wildberger's Path Dance Company, Juliet Forrest's Forrest Collection, Eva Anderson's Baltimore Dance Theatre, Peter Madden's Dance Process are companies without homes, and their performance schedules are sporadic. Aside from the Baltimore Museum of Art, where is a dancer to perform in the city? If you aren't affiliated with a college or university, you've got to be creative just to show your work.

The high spots in the local contemporary scene were Eva vTC Anderson's Baltimore Dance Theatre's performance, which combined the arts of dance and sculpture at the Baltimore Museum, and Path Dance's high-geared performance of Ms. Wildberger's and Jeff Duncan's choreography at the High School for the Performing Arts.

There is a ballet audience in Baltimore. Maybe you saw them at the Lyric Opera House when the Donetsk Ballet performed or at Goucher when the Washington Ballet was in town. More likely you can find them in D.C. or in New York at American Ballet Theater or Joffrey or Kirov performances.

But you don't often see them when area ballet companies dance. True, the Maryland Ballet or the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis are not the New York City Ballet. But these days the New York City Ballet isn't what it used to be either. For value and entertainment, both the Maryland Ballet and BTA deserve kudos all around for delivering consistly improving productions.

While the Kennedy Center had an impressive slate of performances during the past year, one company stands out as the most entertaining, impressive and technically proficient. And wasn't ABT or the Dance Theater of Harlem. The Hubbard Street Dance Company of Chicago gave one of the most provocative and remarkable performances of the season and brought the audience to its feet.

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