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Coy Characterizations

Jim and Lorry May Harvard Summer Dance Center last Friday and Saturday at the Agassiz Theater.

By Susan A. Manning

FOR THEIR AGASSIZ concert this past weekend, Jim and Lorry May chose five duets, all a certain sort of dance piece, not at all subtle, rather hardened, theater dances in the same sense that there are theater people. If the concert made a statement, it was that the Mays believe in that world.

The pieces all demanded a good deal of acting ability. Dance is suited only for ambiguous character, and the Mays, Jim especially, are able to register the succession of differing emotions or the contradiction of several at once that this requires. In "A Short Lecture and Demonstration on the Evolution of Ragtime as Presented by Jelly Roll Morton," choreographed by Anna Sokolow, Jim--ardent, frightened, cool--partners Lorry-never anything but wacky--in a series of queerly-constructed waltzes, foxtrots, and tangos. As narrator Ed Di Lello reads Morton's account of how a dance tune became transformed in his "Tiger Rag," pianist Patricia deVore pounds out its variations in two and three time.

The climax comes in Morton's rendition of "Tiger Rag:" Jim leaps wildly between dance steps, skitters through others, as Lorry flicks a shoulder to off-accented beats. As at a dress ball dragging into the early morning hours, we glimpse odd expressions and actions we're not sure happened at all. The Mays pretend we don't exist; we catch them unawares.

Not so in Art Bauman's "Headquarters." In this dance Jim and Lorry gaze at the audience, frightened, their focus constantly shifting. They're not seriously threatened, but ridiculously. Dressed in men's pajamas, they hang on a clothesline, like two tired mutts after a night of running the streets. Jim teasingly snaps the line, flipping Lorry off, then as she grabs back on, he flies off. They notice the audience, and, startled, drop to all fours. A searchlight, and a James Bond theme song, come on; the two run, frightened. Then, left to the clothesline again, they show off for one another, primping like a tom and pussycat. There's only a pink-lit romantic interlude, then gunshots, and both fall to the ground, just as they had when teasing one another. They stagger back to the clothesline to end. The piece is a mixture of pop and satire that 1966, the year "Headquarters" was composed, would have called "outrageous." Parodying it, a friend cocked her head over both shoulders, quipping, "I mean, is it for real?"

THE REMAINING three pieces do not use such obvious theatrical devices. In "Cervidae," choreographed by Luise Wykell, Jim and Lorry crawl, never standing upright, at times like insects with spindly legs extending skyward, at times like bears rubbing noses. "Peer," choreographed by Patrice Regnier, deals with emotions that one friend called "primitive," another "childlike." Again, the animal tinges the human character. And finally, "Duet," from Anna Sokolow's "Lyric Suite," omitting the shading of animal character, presents the passions of young lovers.

It was a very hot night.

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