Elkins' works are ingenious but hollow at their centers


January 18, 1992|By J. L. Conklin

What really works for New York choreographer Doug Elkins, whose company opened a weekend of appearances at Towson State University's Stephens Hall last night, is how he manages to loot a variety of dance styles to create his unique off-centered and humorous dances.

But what makes this choreographer successful is also the same thing that undermines his works. Mr. Elkins is a stickler for detail, and his penchant for physically describing every possible stylistic variation can sometimes lead him dramatically off the deep end.

The highlight of the evening was the closing work, "The Patrooka Variations," which demonstrated just how cleverly Mr. Elkins can fasten disparate movements together and make them look logically inevitable. In eight distinct sections separated by blackouts, the work is dependent on the rhythms of Bizet's "Carmen," James Brown, Prince and classical Flamenco guitar.

The juxtaposition of James Brown's earthy sounds with the equally riveting Latin rhythms pointed out similarities rather than differences.

The work stated its unique energy as Mr. Elkins presented a short Flamenco dance as if he were on fast forward. This theme was reiterated in variety of tempos and styles until the stage was filled with dancers turning, posing, dipping and catching one another in a whirl of motion.

While Mr. Elkins' humor surfaced in all three works on the program, it was the opening, "The Testosterone Diversions," where the humor was blatantly sophomoric and as dumb and physical as the Three Stooges. The work began with the overt comic antics of Bob Bellamy and David Neumann. The two teammates played adolescent games of rivalry, tripped over their own feet, took pratfalls and flopped about the stage like fish out of water.

Next, Susan Moran Bender, Lisa Heijn, Lisa Nicks and Jane Weiner encapsulized the self-absorbed dramas of female adolescence. But Mr. Elkins' humor never completely jelled, and the dance felt unresolved.

"Where Was Yvonne Rainer When I Had Saturday Night Fever? (Very White Vignettes)" was simply post-modern dance collides with disco fever -- which sounds funnier than the dance actually was.

As in the first dance, the performers are characters trapped in a time warp and presented as sideshow amusement, and while the work was stylistically true, it felt hollow.

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