at MoMing Dance & Arts Center

November 30-December 3 and December 8-10

As the arts go, dance is pretty naked. There’s little to mediate between artist and audience: no script, no paint on canvas, no score. Your body is your instrument; often, your subject is yourself.

You can get around that, of course, by making dances that look like other people’s or by avoiding personal subjects. Jan Bartoszek does neither, and with so much of this figurative nakedness in her dances, the impulse to cover up must be strong.

In Of Love and Shadows, the premiere on her program at MoMing, Bartoszek takes a look at the way lovers interact: offer and receive, attract and repel (so that they can attract again). Ingeniously, she includes not only two dancing lovers (Derek Clifford and Karen Traxler) but two onstage percussionists who also dance (Winston Damon and Shu Shubat), giving us plenty to watch. Oddly, in this personal look at the subject of intimacy, the performers often hide. The drummers hold their drums in front of their faces and, later, cover their eyes with finger cymbals; the dancers often disappear behind a scrim.

One of the reasons Bartoszek is so good at personal subjects is her knack for making movement, however small or simple, suggest psychological states. In the woman’s opening solo, her turnout seems part of the sensual offering of herself. Hands are important: the drummers’ hands seem to caress as much as beat their instruments; the woman dancer’s hands fold, curl, and weave as craftily as the fanciest footwork. Later the dancers, their shadows cast onto the scrim, offer each other their hands and feet as if offering food; the percussionists meanwhile are “drinking,” with scooping motions, from their drums, turned over on the floor to make basins. Later still, the male dancer offers the woman his head; she catches it with the same scooping motion the percussionists had used to drink. To lovers, love is bread and water.

But I remained bothered that a dance so intimate should require masks. At least the brass finger cymbals serve a purpose: they suggest coins on the eyes of the dead; their removal, rebirth. But the scrim is a great offender: not only do we lose entirely our sculptural sense of the dance, but the shadowy images are so distorted and featureless that we lose our sense of the dancers’ humanity. Perhaps Bartoszek means to suggest the impersonality of love: it’s not what we do or who we do it with, but the rhythm to which we do it that matters. All I know is that I was gravely disappointed when the next-to-last section, which had me nearly hypnotized, was interrupted by the last: recorded drums, all four performers running in a circle, and the dancers’ final disappearance behind that damn scrim.

Both dancers and percussionists were impressive in Of Love and Shadows. But Clifford and Traxler–young, unmarked, but expressive–as the dancing couple were more visible, the perfect youthful lovers. Clifford has a large, open face; Traxler, the kind of healthy body that’s grounded and secure from the waist down and all pliancy and delicacy above.

In the Home Of (1989) is both more naked and more obscure than Of Love and Shadows. This is a very personal dance (the program says it’s “for Nancy”) but totally unmediated. The movement motifs and the structure hint at a significance we can’t quite fathom. But there’s sufficient repetition of sufficiently provocative images for us to feel we’re getting a glimpse of Bartoszek’s private vision.

As the work opens, two dancers (Betty Kass and Todd Kiech) recline on the floor with their backs to us, their heads laid on the seats of adjoining chairs. They look oddly comfy. Another dancer (Pat DuChene) sits in a third chair, her back to us; she rocks on her buttocks in motions that grow larger and larger until, though still seated, she’s no longer rocking but circling her torso. A fourth dancer (Patricia Mowen) enters and advances to a fourth chair; she hoists herself onto the back of it so that her body, held straight, is like a teeter-totter, supported at her waist. By the end of the first section Mowen has twice dragged herself, using her arms alone, to DuChene’s chair, where DuChene cradles her in her lap.

All the images of this first section are repeated later, made more resonant–nailed down and expanded to suggest sleep, grief, rootlessness, comfort. The simple metal folding chairs are stand-ins for pillows, a lap, home. In the second section Bartoszek introduces a new movement vocabulary that looks vaguely oriental: spinning; a sinuous, wriggling self-hug; a funny little run with the knees held tightly together and the calves and feet flung out to the sides, the hands held puppylike at chest height. The second section concludes with a humorous series of tableaux: while someone in a voice-over intones “in the home of Mike Ditka,” or of Sandra Day O’Connor, or of some other famous person, the dancers scramble on and off the four chairs to adopt the appropriate poses–a football coach’s bellicose posturing, a judge’s attempts at blind evenhandedness. In another section the male-female couple tumble over one another, close to the floor, while the two women suspend themselves once again from the chairs and float, fall, and drag themselves back.

Is this a family drama, with parents and two daughters? Or a married couple and two single women? Or a dance about the homeless? The four chairs, which are often moved about the stage, combined with the dancers’ running, tumbling, and reassembling suggest a game of musical chairs, which, as we all know, is based on there not being enough to go around. Someone loses out, that’s the point.

Yet I don’t think it much matters whether homelessness, or something else, is the point of the dance. In the Home Of unwinds its human shapes, one after another, with a confidence that somehow we’ll figure out what we need to know; its final images uncurl with a gracious, slow tenderness that’s very moving.

The I Depend on Tango, choreographed a year and a half ago in a workshop and refurbished for this concert, has been changed, or I’ve changed. At this viewing, the contrasts between movement that’s forcibly upright and movement that gives in to gravity were far more evident. Psychology seemed less important, humor far more. Of the eight dancers, Darryl Clark was particularly noticeable for his air of gleeful parody.