For the past four decades, choreographer Maude Baum has sought meaning; dancing is not an art in itself. For Baum, it is an expression to probe the mysteries of nature. So at her company’s 40th anniversary celebration, her Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre, performing at its home the eba Theatre, is examining the complex heart of women.
At the Ruby Celebration, Baum revived her 1996 homage to Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker community; and she brought back one of her best works, “Ennui,” centered on the tortured thoughts of an ordinary woman.
Both took a dim, but respectfully sympathetic view of the path women tread. And certainly, one could not argue that Lee’s life was fraught with obstacles, as women in the 18th century were deemed unfit to lead. Therefore, being considered a female messiah was sacrilege. But Baum’s work, “Mother Ann, The Morning Star of the Shakers,” defends Lee while telling her woeful tale — one that drove her to America to establish her celibate religious community. The two-part dance is also a nod to the simple, joyous hymns and dances that made up the Sunday services in the Shaker Village.
To depict a village, Baum brought in volunteer performers — young and old, male and female — to join her three dancers in the ritualistic line and circle dances. On Friday night, some of the inexperienced dancers got confused, missing cues and turning in the wrong direction. But rather than being annoying or amusing, the performers provided a surprising authenticity to “Mother Ann.” They were not dancers depicting Shakers. They were humans, stretching for the unattainable: perfection.
The second half, the actual retelling of Lee’s life, dragged a bit.
But Sarah LaRoe, as the ever-present pure spirit of Lee, did a wonderful job of carefully guiding the dance, cooling its overwrought temperature so that it did not stumble into melodrama. Over the years LaRoe has blossomed with Baum — from awkward to soulful. It’s beautiful to see.
LaRoe was equally marvelous in “Ennui,” with Mary Beth Hampshire, Baum’s other jewel. While these two are not technical whizzes on the dance floor, the honesty they radiate carries the viewer along.
In “Ennui” they play mirror images — one paces while the other sips tea. They are one, but divided in mind and body. The intimacy of “Ennui” always draws its audiences in.
Of course, Baum is not always serious and her staging of Jamie Cunningham’s “A Crack in the Ceiling…Had the Habit of Sometimes Looking Like A Rabbit” proves that. This is a silly dance in which five dancers play with balloons. It’s nonsensical with the dancers knocking on the floor, kissing their fingertips and pounding away on an invisible typewriter.
While they run about with their balloons, a rabbit and her baby skip gleefully around them. What’s it about. Nothing, but it’s fun.
Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre will continue its Ruby Celebration at 7:30 tonight and Sunday with repeat performances. More information is available at 465-9916 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.