at Link’s Hall, October 21-23

Homecoming is a tricky business. People usually leave their homes for good reason and have ambivalent feelings when they return. Home has changed and they have changed. For the people at home, homecoming can be bittersweet too; the returner has grown older but not always wiser. Still, the relief of seeing people again, as if snatching them back from Hades, can ease these edgy pains.

When Mary Ward lived and performed in Chicago, she was known for her death lunge. A tall, strong woman, Ward had a lunge like a thrown spear; the viewer instinctively threw herself back in her chair, as if to dodge it. Ward’s fierceness combined well with Timothy O’Slynne’s camp outrageousness and Brian Jeffery’s quiet skill in Xsight! Performance Group. Many people were perplexed when Ward suddenly left Chicago for the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico and changed her name to Maya.

Her dances at Link’s Hall show that Ward’s fierceness is intact but her lunge is not. Introducing herself, Ward said somewhat facetiously, “I want to assure everyone that I am still an Amazonian goddess of dance.” She brought great intensity to her performance, and her dances have fascinating texts and subjects. In Last Orange, a voice directs Ward to a box containing the last orange in the world, a world in which everyone lives underground and eats out of bottles and bags; she takes it out rapturously. At the end, the disembodied voice (perhaps the voice of a dead loved one) says, “I know now that there is life after death.”

But Ward doesn’t dance the story in Last Orange. Holding the orange she arabesques, tucks it under her chin, and finally ignores it while doing a series of deep plies. The dance doesn’t deepen the story but illustrates it in broad strokes. Nor was Ward’s legendary technique evident; she gestured with her arms and feet, but her center was not engaged. She acts like an old dancer who can still perform and still move people but can’t move herself the way she used to.

Like Ward, Jackie Radis moved to the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico and embraced the region’s new-age spiritualism. But Radis uses new-age ideas as the road to old-fashioned humanism–to “no-frills human contact,” as her press statement says. Though some of Radis’s images are fey, her human-scale emotions make her solo Dogs, Desires and Good Digestion work. Radis starts seated on a stool, saying, “I am an African mother, connected to the earth spirits. I am a Pueblo woman, weaving medicine bundles.” After this portentous introduction, Radis decides who she really is: “Hi, I’m Jackie Sue from the south side. It’s good to be back, and we’re going to have some fun dancing tonight.”

Radis then shows a series of slides of her beloved dog and of the former MoMing Dance & Arts Center, which she directed from 1974 to 1988: the slides seem a wry joke on her doglike devotion to MoMing. In half-light she dances a mourning solo for both, full of sweeping arms brushing the floor and frantic turns. In the next section, she shows a slide of her new dog, Kismet, a guard dog who protects her physical and emotional boundaries. Her dance for Kismet is alert and aggressive, full of swiveling hips and protective arms. The last section focuses on “good digestion,” which Radis explains means “good food in, good action out, and no farting around.” She breaks her dancing to go into the audience and shake hands with old friends. All the movement seems to be improvised, which makes the dance seem a continual outpouring, unstructured and creative.

Amy Osgood’s homecoming is different from Ward’s and Radis’s. She never left Chicago, but soon after having twin boys she stopped dancing professionally. Since Osgood never left home, her dances are much the same as when she stopped choreographing: well-composed works with a satisfying kinetic kick. She calls her new dances “plain dances” because they have no stories, props, or elaborate costumes. Plain Dance No. 1 is a piece for four women with a quirky solo for Dawn Herron-Friedman: abrupt movements pasted together in a crazy-quilt sequence. Plain Dance No. 2 is a solo for Joy Masterson, a young, technically accomplished dancer willing to entertain and to throw herself into Osgood’s classroom movement. My favorite piece of the evening was Funk’shen (Plain Dance No. 3), performed by eight young dancers. It has many old-fashioned virtues: precise dancing, alternation between driving sections and quieter ones, good use of stage space, good development of movement themes, excellent shifts of focus between dancers in the ensemble. Staying at home can be a good idea, too.

The real pleasure in homecoming is not nostalgia but the chance to cheat death–to see someone you didn’t expect to see again. These performances were dedicated to a person none of us will see again: Tim O’Slynne, who died of complications from AIDS a few weeks ago. As a program note said, Tim was a creative person with a good heart who has left us much too soon.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nancy Landin.