Dance company's portrayal of American heritage is no ordinary history lesson Troupe to present two performances this weekend HOWARD COUNTY DIVERSIONS

January 29, 1993|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

Our American heritage and its diversity are the themes for this weekend's Family Program by the Kinetics Dance Company.

This is not an ordinary history lesson. Your history teacher was never this animated.

The five-part program is comprised of music from Scott Joplin to Bobby Short, with themes on topics such as American Indians and blacks. The program will be performed by seven professional dancers and seven apprentice dancers of Kinetics, along with a guest dancer, Jill Blizzard.

"This is geared toward those who have an interest in the American heritage. That may sound like a dry topic, but it's a moving experience," said Dorothy Fried, executive director of the dance company. The dances are "either very funny or very moving. Sometimes we lose a sense of culture with TV."

The program's first half contains three dances that are all repertory pieces for Kinetics created in the 1980s.

The first work, "Speak Easy," is a humorous interpretation of the Roaring '20s, in period costumes with music by Bobby Short.

In a slight geographical deviation, "Pages in the Wind" is based on "Anne of Green Gables," set in Canada, and deals with the relationship between a mother and daughter. The choreography and Victorian costumes were done by Andrea Lewis.

The final work before intermission is "Harry and Me," a light piece with ragtime music choreographed by Ms. Fried and commissioned by Eva Anderson for the Scott Joplin Festival in 1986.

After intermission, the tone turns more somber.

The premiere of "How Can I Keep from Singing," choreographed by Ms. Fried, who also designed the costumes, was inspired by a trip she took to Lake Tahoe in California. At the resort, the sight of American Indians living with the land was a contrast to how others have exploited the area.

"The Indians believed they belonged to the earth, and we kind of believe the earth belongs to us, and we do things to it like pollute it.

"You're always listening to stories about Indians and problems. I'd like to remember some of the positive. I'd like to remember the concepts and ideologies that the Indians have," Ms. Fried said.

The highlight of the program is the debut for this area of "Negro Spirituals," a work completed 51 years ago by Helen Tamiris, who took 15 years -- 1927-1942 -- to finish it.

Tamiris is considered one of the five pioneers of the modern dance movement and her introduction of black themes made her unique. Ms. Fried said other modern dance choreographers of Tamiris' time looked down on her work because of its ethnic themes.

What is remarkable about this weekend's performance of "Negro Spirituals" is that Kinetics is using the Laban dance notation score for the performance.

The Laban dance notation system -- or Labanotation -- was devised by Rudolf Laban as a score for dance that used symbols on a staff to record elements of dance such as direction in space, dynamics, tempo and the parts of a dancer's body for all types of movement. It is the equivalent of a musical score used by a conductor to guide an orchestra.

Amanda Thom-Woodson, assistant professor of dance at Goucher College and instructor at Kinetics, reconstructed the 120 pages of the score for the program.

"There's so few people that read it," said Dr. Thom-Woodson, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland. Although she notes that the Harford Ballet "teaches it to their little ones."

Dr. Thom-Woodson, who also can read music, said the biggest (( difference between a musical score and Labanotation is that the dance score is translating a three-dimensional product from a two-dimensional source.

Besides reading the Labanotation, other facets of interpreting the score include finding out the history of the piece and researching the choreographer.

This Labanotation score leaves little room for improvisation. Virtually everything is mandated by the author: dance, music, facial expressions, lighting, the style of costumes, which are blue, red and turquoise.

Despite the regimen, Dr. Thom-Woodson knows there will be variance from Tamiris' vision. "1990s dancers can't be 1920s dancers. They've had different training," she said. "Back then, [modern dance] was in its infancy." But it's important to "keep essence and integrity together."

At the least, the final performance of this family program should yield an appreciation for the medium choreographers used to share their works with other choreographers before film and videotape.

Kinetics had scheduled three performances for this weekend, but canceled the 7 p.m. Sunday show, deferring to that behemoth of contemporary culture, the Super Bowl.

Kinetics Dance Company presents the Family Program at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Tickets are $10, $8 for students and senior citizens. The program is funded in part by the Columbia Foundation, the Howard County Arts Council, the Maryland State Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Information: 461-9907.

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