LeRoi Jones on James Waring and Dance Company

James Waring and Dance Company
(Wed & Thurs, 24&25 January 1962 The Henry Street Playhouse)

The concert consisted of four dances, and each dance seemingly of groups of solos.  That is, Waring seems to work out individual movement, as a fact of meat or space, and then to use them together as a dance.  Waring’s dances are for individuals, and having the individuals performing them together forces a surprising unity, i.e., imaginary bonds, of performance.  It is rather like going to a party where everyone has decided to be interesting for a change.

The dances were:   Phrases (1955), a painfully somber exercise.  The Satie piano music does not violate the strict blackness of the dance, even tho it is essentially lighthearted.  This dance was, I think, the most group-like of the program.  The first movements of Valda Setterfield and David Gordon, in a series of highly stylized, yet completely banal threadings and re-threadings across the central eye of the audience, was finally so beautifully grotesque as to remind one once and for all that dancing is performed with arms and legs and elbows; starts and stops.  The dance reduced most movement to essential bone with flesh, but as objects to be canonized.

Dithyramb (1961) moved into Mr. Waring’s more recent work, and the group choreographed feeling of Phrases was almost completely absent.  The individual solos or separations balanced admirably, even though the dance was sprinkled with single virtuoso precis (even stunts).  Fred Herko is a particularly adept stuntman, and a willing virtuoso.  William Davis had a grace that was a happy addition to choreography that is essentially hard and edgy.

Two More Moon Dances (1961) was a hilarious piece.  Remy Charlip’s costumes were wonderfully absurd, especially Mr. Waring’s, which looked as if it had been borrowed from the Wizard of Oz.  Valda Setterfield and David Gordon (and Mr. Gordon’s painted mustache) nearly walked away with the whole dance, except that Mr. Waring seemed to be everywhere at once, and Yvonne Rainer his persistent accomplice.  This dace was the most “theatrical”, and for this reason lost a great deal of the “pure dance” quality that most of Mr. Waring’s other pieces have.  But even the theatricality of this dance was much more sophisticated than the neo-graham school of television soap operas which seems somehow to have gotten rid of any Grahamisms, and Moon Dances has no more relation to Miss Graham and her followers than A Cool Million is related to Amerika.

Dromenon  (1961), the last dance, was perhaps the most pretentious of the program, but it also was responsible for some unbelievably beautiful dancing by Fred Herko, Yvonne Rainer, and Mr. Waring himself.  Toby Armous seem to possess the most lyric quality of any of the performers.  She handles her body like an idea, almost effortlessly.  Richard Maxfield’s music was quite impressive in this last dance, a piece done with tapes along with live musicians.  It was much more than some of the other strictly taped, music concrete sounding pieces, or the willful affectation of George Brecht’s breath-like chatter behind Dithyramb.  However, the whole story was Mr. Waring’s choreography and performance, as well as the brilliant performances of his company.  It is a shame that we cannot watch Mr. Waring and Co. perform (or the companies of Merce Cunningham or Aileen Passloff or Paul Taylor) more often.  Once or twice a year is certainly not enough.  Why is it that people like Alwin Nikolais and his original dixieland jazzband are always around, and really estimate performers like Mr. Waring and Mr. Cunningham are not able to appear more often?  (A good question, Sam.

LeRoi Jones
from Floating Bear #19



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