White Oak Project showcases talents of Baryshnikov, Morris

August 24, 1991|By Jennifer Dunning | Jennifer Dunning,New York Times News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- The White Oak Dance Project, a touring company founded last year by Mikhail Baryshnikov, is unusual on a number of levels.

The company has given a ballet pyrotechnist and star, Mr. Baryshnikov, the chance to explore an entirely different dance form. It has given Mark Morris, whose work the troupe performs, a new instrument for the choreography that has made him a leading American modern dance artist. The project makes use of some of the best -- and most seasoned -- dancers in the country.

And it has brought to new mass audiences at summer festival auditoriums choreography that makes no concession to those audiences.

Mr. Baryshnikov may be the big draw, as he clearly was in a White Oaks performance Wednesday night at Philadelphia's Mann Music Center. But he was not performing the star vehicles one might expect on a summer tour. In fact, the five early and recent dances on the program had a style, wit and musicality that were wholly their own, neither mainstream nor self-consciously iconoclastic. And the audience responded with appreciative laughter, murmurs and applause.

Lake," a new work set to Haydn's Horn Concerto No. 2 in D, sets forth Mr. Morris' current choreographic concerns in dance that has a transparent clarity and simplicity, for all its march-drill precision and carefully woven textures.

"Going Away Party" might be a response to music Mr. Morris has long loved, or even to the mixed blessings of being a company director. It is a seamless dance, with not a single hanging thread, in which three young couples in Western-style clothes sashay through a suite of songs by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, skirting and drawing in a lone cowboy danced by Mr. Morris.

As danced by Mr. Baryshnikov, "Ten Suggestions" looks less like a young contemporary choreographer's brilliantly simple homage to the pioneers of American modern dance than it does when Mr. Morris performs it. But it is still an inspired solo, an art deco dance filled with small, satisfying visual surprises.

And it is an exquisite showcase for Mr. Baryshnikov, dancing here with all the skill and intensity of focus he displayed in the ballet classics, as well as with the deft physicality of a silent-movie comedian. Mr. Baryshnikov was scheduled to dance with the White Oak company last night at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.

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