at MoMing Dance & Arts Center

June 6-8 and 13-15

I like the way that detail and emotion pile up over time in novels. But I can see the fascination of a good book of short stories. Often the sheer variety draws you in–if you don’t like one story, maybe the next will be better. And they’re short, right? So you never suffer for long.

It’s the same with MoMing’s “Dance & More for $1.98”–though I didn’t suffer often during this engaging and frequently funny evening. This year the venerable annual showcase features 19 works by 15 neophyte choreographers and “others” (who produce the “more”). The performance lasts only a couple of hours, and you can’t beat the price–less than a third of what you’d pay for a movie.

The attraction of an evening like this is in seeing how well the artists accommodate themselves to the form: the problem is to make a small thing not only complete but varied. Some of the most successful pieces here worked within self-imposed limitations. Perhaps the most richly textured of these was Colleen Halloran’s SWF (Single White Female). Halloran uses an old chair, an old phonograph player, and an old scratchy recording of Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” to set the mood, but this solo gets its real color and strength from Halloran’s clever, biting monologue and her odd, itchy way of interspersing movement and talk. She’s a wonderful comedian, raucous and hostile and vulnerable; she also heightens and stylizes body language, cracks visual jokes (a reference to White Castle burgers entails a big slide across the floor), and smokes a cigarette more eccentrically than anyone else I’ve seen. But the work’s depth comes from the moments when Halloran withdraws–when she takes a slow, silent, inward walk, or writhes on the floor in a private reenactment of a bad dream or a worse experience.

Sheldon Smith’s Why Be Rich When You Can Be Poor is severely limited–I wondered at first whether anyone would ever move during this static duet, which for a time threatened to remain a tableau. But the harsh circle of light thrown by a single unshaded light bulb and the sparse movement tell an economical, nightmarish tale of sexual humiliation. Tim Noworyta’s Corporatissimo! also sketches a story, using punchy, robotic movement and cleverly playing against the operatic music.

By contrast, Daedalus in his The Tower/VVVVV clearly has bitten off far more than he can chew. Daedalus is a master of the striking visual image –a woman seems to float, a swath of silky red material flows like water, a silvery starfish scuttles onstage–but this piece is cluttered with audience substitutes seated behind a scrim and a voice-over about God.

Certain works, understandably, seemed simply young. Traveler was very well danced by its choreographer, Albert Williams Jr., but the choreography was stale, pretentious, and self-involved. Andrea Pankiewicz’s Real World Ambitions was muddled in intent and execution. And though Her Inner Ear, by Balinda Craig-Quijada and Emily Stein, had unity, structure, and a clear intent, the story itself and the choreography were pretty ho-hum.

It takes guts for a young artist to produce a long work of pure dance for several performers. Todd Michael Kiech showed considerable ambition and promise as a choreographer in A Square Dance, though it suffered by its placement on the program: coming after Jeanette Welp’s free-for-all A la la la la, its boisterous but controlled movement looked stiff and stagy. But Kiech shows a real gift for contrasting the movements of different groups onstage. The second half of A Square Dance is particularly suggestive: to the buzzing insect sounds of a summer night, a man and woman dance together while the other four dancers “sleep” downstage, gently rolling, their bodies silent but murmuring. The duet is athletic but also occasionally quiet and evocative–the man and woman, facing each other, by turn gently touch a foot behind the other’s knee. It ends with the woman repeating one of the sleepers’ gestures: she lies on her back, and slowly her index finger and then her arm point straight up–grow magically and naturally erect, like a plant–and collapse, in a movement that seems as involuntary and inevitable as an erotic dream.

Three dances in the second half clearly owe much to Timothy Buckley’s Mr. Inbetween, staged a few months ago at MoMing. Kay Wendt LaSota, Lydia Charaf, and Jeanette Welp are all members of the Buster King Dance Club, which helped create Mr. Inbetween, and all three display Buckley’s blend of all-stops-out physical comedy and esoteric story. Each choreographer puts a slightly different twist on Buckley’s Chaplinesque formula, however; it should be interesting to see how these artists develop.

In Chilly Gentilly LaSota celebrates the vernacular, but with a touch of irony; her choreography translates adolescent slang to the body. But the real pleasure of this duet comes from the performers. LaSota’s final look of disbelief and disappointment is priceless. And Linda Lenart, her partner, is downright charismatic–the result, I think, of her musicality and her gleeful, shy, conspiratorial looks at the audience, which create a remarkable intimacy.

With its mysterious “X” marked in tape on the stage, its mysterious three boxes, and Charaf’s mysterious efforts and rages, Let Loose on the 4th of July has an air of French whimsy, almost of Beckett. Charaf is a natural clown: she attempts to stand on “pointe” in her sneakers; falls, arms flailing; stands up, thoroughly disgusted, and glares at us; begins waving her arms like windmills, eyes unfocused; finally sniffs her own armpit suspiciously –and makes us laugh and not feel ashamed to be laughing.

Of these three works, Welp’s quartet, A la la la la, shows the greatest spatial wit: Welp creates a literal square dance, a game whose logical outcome is a physical impossibility. She also comes up with some oddly parodic movement–odd because we’re not sure what’s being parodied, as when the dancers, seated, place their fingertips daintily on their knees and breathe in and out energetically, their lips flubbering.

That leaves Douglas McMinimy, whose six short pieces, interspersed with the other works, feature poetry by Stevie Smith. From what I can recall of Smith, she has a deceptively flat-footed style with a jazzy, ironic edge (she wrote the lines “I was much too far out all my life / And not waving but drowning”). McMinimy–who has trained as an actor as well as a dancer and who recites all the poems himself, either standing or moving about–successfully captures those qualities. But his declamatory, formal, almost 19th-century style of recitation jibes oddly with the interpretive movement. And would he have changed his style if he were reciting another poet? I found this performer’s bold, lacquered manner and quizzical “cute” looks at us (were they meant ironically?) offensive even as I admired the effort to reinterpret Smith’s poetry.

But judge for yourself. Audience members vote on their favorites after each performance, and that determines who appears in “Best of Dance & More for $1.98” next winter. You may not have another chance to vote. MoMing is in trouble: the church that owns its building would like to sell, and though MoMing has first rights to purchase, the long-lived but always struggling institution has less than a month to come up with the money.