Apprentices dance their way through witty works

February 18, 1994|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

Apprenticeship is an old idea that's gaining new ground -- especially in dance companies. The Joffrey Ballet and Martha Graham have enjoyed the benefits of having an alternate company, where new dancers can hone their skills while learning repertory. The most recent addition is Paul Taylor.

The Paul Taylor 2 company, under the direction of Linda Hodes, presented its second-ever performance Wednesday night at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The program was danced by five fresh-faced performers primed to perform the works of one of the country's best choreographers.

Coincidentally, the company also brought UMBC graduate Robin Branch back to the theater where she performed as a member of the Phoenix Dance Company.

Mr. Taylor's classically-attuned work, "Aureole," is truly witty and funny.

While revised for the apprentice company, the work is one of Mr. Taylor's signature dances and was a choreographic ground-breaker when it debuted in 1962. The work brims over with clever spatial details, curious sideways jumps and odd foot and leg flexes, interspersed among lyrical phrasing that creates a sunny reflection on the vagaries of relationships.

Sometimes the dance looks folksy; at other times, there is a defined lyrical lilt. "Aureole" follows Handel's music with as good a humor as you'll see in a dance. Gail Cox, Jill Echo, Andrew Lebeau, Sean Mahoney and Ms. Branch performed the work with exuberance and a fine attention to detail.

In contrast, the second dance, "Profiles," is a darkly realized work to an abstract score by Jan Radzynski. A work for two couples, the dance presents a choreographic problem: Can dance be perceived in a two-dimensional plane?

In "Profiles," the answer is both yes and no. The main motif places the dancers with their legs set wide apart, arms set straight at their sides, torso turned toward the audience, recalling the feeling one has looking at Egyptian art. Yet the dancers were equally sculptural, or three-dimensional, thus creating a paradox. While the dancers provided a technically acceptable performance, they lacked the stridency needed to put this work over the edge.

Another signature work, "3 Epitaphs," was also given a high-energy,yet immature, performance. The dance demands strong comedic timing; with their stoop-shouldered gait, the grotesque creatures are ridiculous, simple and endearing. The dancers need to get the timing down, relax and ham it up.

The second half of the program was devoted to "Company B," one of those dances that revolve around a nostalgia for a particular era. This genre is dangerous, as it can lure the unwary choreographer into terminal cuteness. The songs of The Andrew Sisters provide the nostalgia, and Mr. Taylor skirts most of the pitfalls with a subtext of men going to war. While peripheral, the allusions are still potent.

"Company B," danced by the "B" Company, is a fine vehicle for displaying the personalities and talent of young and energetic dancers. The primary Paul Taylor troupe will perform Feb. 22 at the Kennedy Center.

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