Video -- recorded and live -- was featured in three of the six works in a concert last weekend by Phoenix Dance Company, the faculty collective at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
But only in one did it actually contribute something. Mostly it was gimmicks and special effects, and forgettable.
Happily, the dancing was not.
As an intro, there was a 13-minute experimental video called "Changing Room" by Carol Hess and faculty videographer Vin Grabill, shown in 1996 on Maryland Public Television. The work is an exercise in video technique, in which two dancers are manipulated (and occluded) with wipes, dissolves, superimpositions, etc., repeated ad nauseam. As dance, it's a washout.
By contrast, the video presence in Hess' new "Shooting Gallery" is integral. It also has two dancers (Renee Brozic and Michael O'Rourke) performing in canon, one following the other.
After a bit, they pick up a live video camera and take turns skimming each other's bodies, seeing with its "eye," savoring the texture of flesh and fabric. The camera becomes, in effect, a third voice in their canon, adding meaning that we could not find any other way.
In its conventional pieces, Phoenix's combination of intelligent choreography and lyrical performance is quite striking.
This is especially true of Sandra Lacy in a solo by choreographer Irene Hultman, a rising star in New York. It's an unusual take on two songs purred by Eartha Kitt: an Edith Piaf standard and a song from the 1951 film "Royal Wedding" by Lerner and Lane. Hultman doesn't mirror the text but plays off it in quirky counterpoint, alluding to loaded words such as "touch" or "liar" with a feathery gesture or a tilt of the body's axis.
Doug Hamby's style is all over the place, but rarely uninteresting. "Women at Work" (1983), based on a D.H. Lawrence story called "Tickets, Please" that presciently describes sexual harassment in the workplace, features an assembly line of women who realize their collective strength. The movement is minimal, powerful, ritualistic, as the women turn into vengeful Bacchantes.
The elaborate soundscape by "intermedia artist" Steve Bradley -- paid for with a grant from the provost's discretionary fund -- was suitably bleak and windswept.
Pub Date: 2/17/98