Ability obscures Humphrey controversy

October 26, 1994|By J.L. Conklin | J.L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

The staid and somewhat musty Doris Humphrey Repertory Dance Company, which performed at Towson State University Saturday, may be one of the most controversial dance companies in the United States.

The tempest is about who actually owns the works of seminal dance choreographer Doris Humphrey. While that question remains to be answered, artistic director Mino Nicholas and his company are dancing the works. On Saturday, two full length dances and selected short excerpts from Humphrey's repertoire, as well as dance legends Ted Shawn and Eleanor King, were presented with scholarly homage.

If Mr. Nicholas' company was less talented and less sincere, it would be easy to dismiss it. But the works pieced together from film, memories and dance notation -- even if they are only a facsimile of the choreographer's works -- were presented with a technical quality difficult to shrug off.

The evening commenced with "Ritmo Jondo (Deep Rhythm)" -- a work in three sections based on gypsy folk music. The symbolism and stereotyped imagery made one aware that this premiered in 1953.

The balance of brief dances included "Air for the G String," first seen in 1928, which hinted at Ms. Humphrey's careful eye for composition, and "The Call/Breath of Fire" (1929/1930) that clearly demonstrated how she worked rhythmic impulses into her movements. Christine Jowers in Eleanor King's "To the West" (1944) wonderfully captured the spirit and verve of the evocative dance. The excerpts concluded with Ted Shawn's "Ballerina Real" (1916) an exotic number that featured high kicks and the twirling Theresa Moldonardo's gauze skirt.

The evening concluded with Ms. Humphrey's large group dance, "Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor" (1938), danced to Bach. The dance has an architectural quality, evidenced in the tiers of large boxes on which the piece began, and in the way Ms. Humphrey deconstructed her phrases then reassembled them. It was odd that Mr. Nicholas chose to costume his performers in unitards and not in the polarized black and white costumes, which would undoubtedly add another dimension to the dance.

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