Heather Maloy's ambitious new piece, Alice, playing this weekend at the Diana Wortham, is an example of what happens when you take all the right utensils from the drawer, but don't really know how to use them. You may have planned a gourmet repast, but what you got was hash.
Maloy's dancer's are outstanding, especially Bat Abbit, Jennifer Cavanaugh, and Christopher Bandy. The are well trained, agile, attractive–the whole company achieves an anxiety-reducing level of competence–but they are not really given anything to do, or rather given the same things to do over and over, without regard either to character or to dramatic development.
Alice is a story ballet in which no particular attention is paid to the story. If I had not been told what the story was, if there hadn't been a girl dressed as a white rabbit, I would have guessed the dance was "Kids Goofing off on the Playground" or "A Ballet Company Tries to Pay Homage to Bob Fosse." The execution was fine, but the plan–well, what WAS the plan? A ballet needn't have a story, of course, but then it needs an idea, either intellectual or a kinetic, and, choreographically, there isn't a single idea in Alice, not a single movement which could be attributed to revelation of character or exploration of the potentials of the human body, or the exposition of some unfolding argument.
I take that back. There is a nice moment when multi-colored paper falls from the ceiling, which signifies the butterfly leaving fragments of its old life behind. That was, in context of the mechanical relentlessness of the evening, sheer genius.
Terpsicorps made much of the integration of video elements by Gary Crossey and Brian Jones of Fastfwd >>, and, of themselves, the video pieces are interesting and workmanlike, but they have the odd effect of detraction and undercutting, for Maloy has used them to emphasize the limitations of the body rather than as supplements to the body's abilities. "Oh, look," the videos say, "at the wonderful things special effects can do but real bodies in real space can't."
If that's your notion, why make dance? Why not make a video where bodies wiggle and disappear and elongate like objects going down a black hole, and be done with it? The potentially lovely moment of the caterpillar's metamorphosis is ruined because a dancer is not allowed to realize it with his own body. He is given video wings rather than allowed to manifest his own, and the effect is cheap and cowardly, as though the choreographer was afraid to trust three hundred years of dance magic.
Shorthand for the evening: good dancers, stunningly good publicity machine, not much for all that apparatus to address itself to. Maloy probably has a few more years to go in someone else's studio, a few more attentive sessions with a master of her art, before she can claim the status of star and choreographer.