Choreographer Maude Baum always looks for more than technique in a dancer. That was obvious this past weekend at the eba Theatre. Performers with Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre not only danced but also recited long passages from Virginia Woolf’s writing.
In “Oh Virginia,” the centerpiece for the four-night Spring Salon, the unapologetic descriptions of characters and thoughts as put down by Woolf laid the foundation for this curious dance. Taking turns, the dancers, with the petite Amy Vincent going first, spoke Woolf’s words as if they were their own. Pulled from “Jacob’s Room” and “Moments of Being,” the speaker mused about a woman on the street, gender roles, her father’s personality, and sentimentality.
As Vincent or the other speakers walk among the dancers, all dressed in high-necked Victorian garb, the movement reflected the tone and the narrative, sometimes literally, but mostly metaphorically. Sometimes, what they did made no sense at all.
That didn’t matter. Regardless of what the dancers were doing, rolling on the ground, pulling at each other’s arms or sitting nose-to-nose, they framed the speaker — making it quite clear that it was Woolf’s modernist prose that was the real star of the show.
Divided into two parts, the work also featured Baum as its final speaker. This was a treat, as she is superb performer who rarely steps out into the spotlight. As she definitively delivered “the past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly,” her dancers stretch out on the floor across the stage. Like animals showing their bellies, they were symbolically submitting to the words and to Baum. Certainly, that was an unintended outcome. But it was one not lost on the audience. It was a surprise gesture of loyalty and faith.
As in most Baum concerts, the evening was rounded out by some old repertory favorites — Kevin Wynn’s “Scarifications” and Cliff Keuter’s “Summer Light.” Of the two, I prefer “Summer Light.” Set to Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto, this is a sunny, elegant work for three — Isabella Ientile, Sarah LaRoe and Deb Rutledge. It’s a crowd-pleaser that takes its viewers through a summer evening, its early bright hours, its uncertain dusky hours and its final moments of triumph. The dance is a charmer.
Wynn’s piece is quirky. It melds muscle flexing with martial arts and lyrical dancing. The heart of the dance is shaped by the patterns made by the dancers who converge and dissolve. It might have read better if the volume of the music, by Kevin Bartlett, was increased. It was a strain to hear anything other than the slaps and stomps that are inherent to the work.
Rutledge, a consummate performer, stood out in “Scarifications.” Her mean attack of the movement insisted that this performance of “Scarifications” would not be tepid. Also marvelous was Lynn Hasselbarth who has grown in maturity to be a gracious and effective artist.
Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre will repeat this performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the eba Theatre, 351 Hudson Ave. For more information, call 465-9916 or visit www.eba-arts.org.