In focus at Kennedy: seminal choreography

March 02, 1996|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Kennedy Center's America Dancing series, a retrospective of contemporary American dance, continued this week with a focus on the works of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, performed by The Dance Consort: Mezzacappa/Gabrian.

This New York-based company, working with former members of the Humphrey-Weidman and Weidman companies, strives to faithfully re-create the dances, techniques and principles of movement developed by those seminal choreographers.

Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman were contemporaries of Martha Graham and, like her, were alumni of the Denishawn Company.

Humphrey's technical discoveries, based on principles of fall and recovery, have been a classroom staple for budding dancers, and her book "The Art of Making Dances" has been a primer for many choreographers. Weidman, taking cues from his mentor, Ted Shawn, encouraged men to become dancers and developed a style based on pantomime.

In this third event of the five-year-long series at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre, Dance Consort: Mezzacappa/Gabrian presented works including Weidman's "Submerged Cathedral" and two excerpts from "Atavisms" -- "Lynchtown" and "Bargain Counter."

"Submerged Cathedral," performed by Craig Gabrian, depicted a soul's struggling rise between heaven and Earth and relied heavily on religious imagery for its dramatics. "Bargain Counter" allowed us to see Weidman's humor, as Mr. Gabrian's persnickety shopkeeper was overwhelmed and literally trampled by a mob of women as shoppers. The mob mentality also was evident in the chilling work "Lynchtown," with its dark and menacing throng of dancers.

Originally choreographed by Humphrey in 1936 as part of her "New Dance" trilogy, "With My Red Fires," the concluding work, was the highlight of the program.

Against the polyrhythmic score of Wallingford Reigger and among a Greek-inspired set of long, low risers and columns designed by Jonathan Belcher, the troupe of dancers created an allegory of love at war with the conventions of society.

Viewed from today's permissive vantage point, one could wonder what all the fuss was about, yet Humphrey's wonderful rhythmic sensibilities and spatial acumen lift the dance from melodrama into a swirling paean to the wonders, excitement and frustration of love.

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