Portrait of a Lady

Parsons' "Ring Around the Rosie," which closed the evening's first half, had the best dancing. It has a plot of sorts: The Wanderer (Parsons himself), who is actually the Black Plague, clothed in closely fitted black velvet, comes upon a small field of folk -- a bride, a groom, a physician, a priest, etc. -- all in elegant costumes more Renaissance than medieval. He causes the bridegroom to die and reduces the rest to terrorized individuals, afraid for themselves alone. The dance itself moves in and out of instantly formed, instantly dissolved tableaux. Sometimes they tumble up and down over one another like water over a cliff, and in their midst or very near is Death, either moving or waiting. The piece is beautiful and somewhat horrifying -- thank goodness for the evening's lighter stuff that followed: "Ring Around the Rosie" deals with the sort of reality of which humankind can only bear a little.

-- Harry Weber

SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE
By George M. Cohan
West End Players Guild

From its dark-and-stormy-night opening to its remote mountaintop setting to its tough-guy lingo, George M. Cohan's Seven Keys to Baldpate pokes fun at its own genre, the melodramatic thriller. Essentially a one-joke show -- a writer faces his own threadbare cliches -- the joke does wear thin, and Cohan piles on too many reversals at the end for my taste.

Andrew Richards anchors the show with a properly breezy touch as the writer. I'm tempted to suggest that director Teresa Doggett and others in her cast at the West End Players Guild could have made the show more fun by taking their playing of these stereotypes further out, as do Rick McKenna with a mad hermit and Steve Wozniak with a hard-boiled police inspector. But Cohan's writing may be too fragile to support them if they go any further out than they are now. Doggett and fellow designer Pat Rosenbaum do have fun with the 1940s costumes -- I was especially taken with Eleanor Mullin's outrageous red wig.

-- Bob Wilcox

COCADANCE
COCAdance Company and COCAdance Too
Center of Contemporary Arts

Comparisons, they say (quite correctly, as they have a way of being), are odious and unhelpful. Occasionally, however, they have a purpose. Therefore, the following: Just a little while ago, at a sort of anthology dance concert, a dozen young dancers from a college not too nearby, one known nationally for its dance department, did a tap routine.

They were young and therefore cute, but the performance was miserable: The tap routine was simple enough, but the dancers made a nonsense of it. As I watched it I thought, I'm going to see COCAdance perform in the near future, and those high-school kids are going to blow this group far away.

About halfway through the first set of pieces last weekend, the kids from COCAdance, in a piece called "Right Time, Wrong Place," choreographed by Karen Hatcher to the singing and playing of B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt, did exactly what I had expected them to. I'd never thought of psychedelic tap before, but the dancers, in tie-dyed, fringed T-shirts, had the same appearance that the young dancers at the Fillmore West had back in the '60s: ecstatic, tuned-in and free -- but all in the careful order of the dance, carefully arranged to give the illusion of disorder. The tapping was crisp and clean, even when the 20 or so dancers were all onstage together; the body English -- which young dancers can often overdo -- was spare; and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves at least as much as the audience.

Most of the first half were pieces by the young dancers themselves, however, and it was interesting to note that the dancers seemed to give the same 100 percent to their peers that they did their teachers. Because the student choreography was simple, unpretentious and fun, in addition to being well danced, it was most enjoyable.

When older choreographers were in charge, however, the fun continued, but the dance became more demanding. The last piece of the performance's first half, "Challenge," choreographed by Lee Nolting, COCAdance's artistic director, is a case in point. Made for the four young men of COCAdance -- Antonio Douthit, Cornithea Henderson, Chavo Killingsworth and Brian Moore, -- "Challenge" is a choreographed competition in leaping, twirling, tumbling, bouncing and generally showing off for skilled young fellows who can really get off the floor. The second half opened with "P-Funk," which was made for COCAdance by Rennie Harris and had some marvelous show-off stuff, too. The dancers, in homey clothes, move to what is meant to (and does) sound like a funk radio station. They kind of socialize when the announcer is rapping on, then get into some serious dancing when the music begins again.

Someone remarked at intermission that what the COCAdance kids needed was some serious modern-dance work, and I expect that many of them will eventually get it.

In the meanwhile, they're working hard on their tap and jazz dancing and getting up pieces by choreographers like Hatcher, Nolting and Harris, as well as Christine O'Neal and Rebecca Stenn, all of whom use the playfulness of young people to get some nice stuff on the floor. Keep your eyes open and your ears on for COCAdance performances -- you'll have as much fun as the dancers do.

-- Harry Weber

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