For those who take their dance seriously, the Kennedy Center's America Dancing series offers a retrospective of contemporary American dance that is a must see.
The second installment of the five-year series, which opened Tuesday at the Terrace Theatre, focuses on the works of the "mother and father" of modern dance, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn.
Denishawn, their original dance company, spawned choreographic greats such as Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham. The present-day company, Denishawn Repertory Dancers (working with Jane Sherman, a former Denishawn dancer) seeks to educate audiences to the theatrical origins of modern dance by re-creating works of the original company.
The program's 13 short pieces provided a glimpse of the company's history from 1916 to 1929. All were suitably musty and delightfully dated.
The archival quality to the performance was underlined by the slides of the photogenic couple that preceded each dance.
Ms. St. Denis and her partner, Ted Shawn, unabashedly borrowed gestures and movements from cultures they saw as exotic, even creating dances based on pictures or drawings that appealed to them.
Opening the evening was "Floor Plastique," a simple exercise combination performed by five young women from the New York School for the Performing Arts. Martha Graham began her performances with a similar exercise as a means of introducing her particular technique and to warm up the dancers.
"Schubert Waltzes," "Second Arabesque" and "Choeur Danse" fit neatly into the classical mold a la Isadora Duncan. There is an inherent symmetry to the dances, coupled with a strong attention to the musical phrasings, that makes them pleasing to watch.
The program's highlights were the costume dances. These adventures into exoticism were what
made Denishawn so popular worldwide. The audience warmly favored "Dance of the Black and Gold Sari," "A Javanese Court Dancer," and "Serenata Morisca" -- all given a strong performance by Jacqulyn Buglisi.
Guest performer Jack Clark danced "Gnossienne," "Japanese Spear Dance" and "Mevlevi Dervish" -- dances that Ted Shawn created for himself.