Dancers just scratch the surface of a fertile--and creative--ground

February 25, 1991|By J. L. Conklin

The evening of dances presented by New York choreographers and performers Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer at the Baltimore Museum of Art this weekend was a plodding and uneven adventure. Part of the difficulty was in the long inexplicable pauses between the dances; the other problem was with the weight of the works themselves.

Ms. Packer and Mr. Bridgman are conceptual artists. Their dances are more attuned to the cerebral than to the physical. Their dancing is low-key and restrained, as if their bodies were constantly filtering and censoring their brain signals.

Their attention to ideas, when presented well as in their works "Lava Falls" or "Castrato," can overshadow technical or physical lassitude. But when the concept has only the cleverness of thought behind it, the effect is certainly jeopardized.

"Man O Man," the solo given by Mr. Bridgman, was too clever, and his depiction of corporate man, who muses out loud "man, oh man, ohman" in varying shades of theatrical delivery, outweighed the physicality of his rhythms. All that remains from this work is Mr. Bridgman's brave and misguided efforts to wed the word "man" to other words, such as manipulate, mandate, manic and manure.

In "Kapahi," a Hawaiian word meaning "standing on the edge," Ms. Packer and Mr. Bridgman relied on native dance traditions to form the bedrock for their gestures. Elements of the hula (a narrative tradition) are quite visible and work very well with the couple's own dance style. Yet Ms. Packer's dimly lit nude solo with a large blue ball felt trendy and not authentic. Despite "Kapahi's" strong images and lively rhythms, the work felt unexcavated. Like those half-buried Easter Island figures, one wants to know what is hidden beneath the surface.

"Durel," the closing work with its anthropological imagery and visually arresting set, left the audience with the feeling that this couple has only begun to explore their subject matter.

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