'Listening' proves a strain


"Listening," a premiere by New York choreographer Nicholas Rodriguez and his company, DanceCompass, strained our attention span. The uneven choreography and the dancers, who seemed to walk through -- but not dance -- this lengthy abstract exposition, left the audience fidgeting.

Technically, DanceCompass is not a bad company. They just got off to a wobbly start Friday night in a performance that was part of Towson State University's Dance on the Edge series. "Listening" could benefit from choreographic editing, technical polishing, better lighting, compelling music and a more definitive ending.

Yet for all the weak spots, Mr. Rodriguez's use of symmetry, his strong spatial sensibilities and his use of dancers in the duets merit attention. There is something worthwhile in the dance, but you had to struggle to see it.

Mr. Rodriguez's two solos, "Still Life with Fruit" and "Supply Side," pinpointed this choreographer's penchant for characterization. He seems to be most comfortable when he has motivation for movement. "Supply Side," a sophomoric work dealing with drugs, was forgettable despite its anti-drug message. "Still Life with Fruit," a spoof complete with a toga-clad Mr. Rodriguez, lawn sheep and a large bowl of fruit, gave the audience a few good laughs.

The troupe -- Mr. Rodriguez, Charlton Boyd, Naoko Katakami, Nadine Mose, Maureen Glennon and Frenchy Haines -- finally hit its technical stride in "Once We Met" and "Inasides Out," two dances that revolve about male/female relationships. "Once We Met," exploring the psychological terrain of a sometimes violent, sometimes tender relationship, was nicely danced by Ms. Katakami and Mr. Boyd. Both dancers were at ease with the dance and gave a convincing performance.

"Inasides Out," the closing work, was a satirical look at relationships and the social graces that mask true feeling. Genuinely humorous and right on the mark, Mr. Boyd and Ms. Mose, along with Ms. Katakami and Mr. Rodriguez, portrayed two couples who get together for an evening of cocktails, dinner and dancing. As the work unfolds, the true feelings of the performers are acted out and are juxtaposed with the more socially acceptable actions. Ms. Mose may kiss her hostess' cheek, but she'd like to strangle her. Ms. Katakami may modestly accept Mr. Boyd's compliment, but she would much rather seduce him. "Inasides Out" shows Mr. Rodriguez's ability to juggle theatrical elements skillfully and with humor.

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