New York

Wendy Perron

What happens when ’70s conceptual choreography—linear, task oriented, geometric—barrels head-on into the flashy theatricalism that is the standard choreographic rhetoric of the ’80s? One satisfactory answer can be found in Wendy Perron’s hybrid choreography By bringing brain power to dance theater, Perron and her company avoid the glib flourishes of show-bizzy routines that now overload too many “experimental” dances. And by adding some touches of performance pizzazz to her formerly too-diffident dances, Perron allows their intrinsic kinetic charm to shine through their conceptual conceits.

This blend of the playful and the analytic creates choreography that is sometimes kinetically alluring, sometimes willfully eccentric; Perron’s movements and themes are like brainteasers, with an extra emphasis on the tease. Sometimes it all collapses into a muddle of mixed metaphors; the contradictions and digressions—the straining inclusivity that looks like an inability to make a definite choice—implode, canceling out any intended effects. But even Perron’s stubborn wanderings and frequent blind alleys are carried off with an air of easy physical confidence, so that her choreographic confusions are more like good-natured experiments than grating conundrums.

The serendipity of Perron’s choreography was shown to the full in And Me with My X-Ray Eyes, 1986, the first dance on this four-part program. As per the oblique title, the movement was awkward and difficult, and riddled with non sequiturs. Yet the matter-of-fact costumes (T-shirts and baggy pants), the easy strength of the all-female cast, and the punchy rhythms of the score by Arto Lindsay and the Ambitious Lovers (which sounded like the musical offspring of a brief affair between Steely Dan and the Talking Heads) grounded the sprawling goings-on in a kind of relaxing realism that was confident, almost meditative: it didn’t especially matter where the dance was going, it was the how of going that was underlined. Idiosyncratic process is still the hallmark of Perron’s choreography (the only clear-cut structural motif is intermittent unison and canon), yet there is a moment-to-moment kinetic coherence, a sense of surprising event that satisfies with its many small pleasures.

But the most electric dance on the program was the most tightly constructed and packaged. In Divertissement, 1986, Perron and composer/performer David Van Tieghem hurtled, lurched, flailed, and skulked around the stage, semipartners in a precisely paced, deadpan comedy routine that was genuinely funny even as it reveled in its own neovaudevillian effects. Set to a thumping rhythm track by Van Tieghem, and using realistic, slice-of-low-life dialogue written by Perron, this was dancing in a classic mode: efficient and entirely to the point. Divertissement marks a definite point of arrival in this admirable choreographer’s development.

John Howell