This festival may be New Wave, but the dancing celebrates the tried and true

One of the most eagerly awaited events of the fall season has been the New Wave festival, which began in early October at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and runs there through December. An elaborately produced exposition of experimental theater, the New Wave promises, in theory at least, to open new vistas of collaborative possibilities among artists, dancers, and composers.

For dance people, the excitement of the New Wave festival has so far run counter to what ''new wave'' implies. Featuring such well-established choreographers and dancers as Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, and Valda Setterfield, the festival has really been a celebration of the tried and true. Yet, so what?

The beauty of Childs's dances and the pleasures of Setterfield's long solo in the multimedia play ''The Photographer'' make debate about the ''new wave'' label superfluous. Although one must report that this enterprise has not enabled us to see the dancers in a new way, they're just fine to see in the old way.

I doubt that fans of Trisha Brown got significantly added pleasure from her collaboration with artist Robert Rauschenberg in ''Set and Reset,'' and I doubt that fans of Brown feel they - or Brown herself - need that extra stimulus.

For me, the New Wave's high-water mark has been Childs, a dancer and choreographer for whom collaboration has always been important; that is, music has always been a central dramatic ally, and like all deeply musical choreographers, the alliance between music and dance is as mysterious as it is self-evident.

So well attuned are the two elements that you cannot know which is most responsible for the dance's tenor. Is the pulsating buoyancy of ''Mad Rush,'' a New York premiere, due chiefly to Philip Glass's modulating score or the spaciousness of Childs's steps? Would the dance have a less ecstatic edge without Glass? Set to no music, would ''Mad Rush'' become a didactic exercise in the differences between loping and bumpy movement?

Because Childs gets so deeply involved with the inner foundations of dance, with the differences between phrases that either lope or bump through space, she is rightly called the most formal of the formalist choreographers. Yet what might seem like nitpicking differentiations Childs makes theatrically thrilling.

''Available Light,'' a 50-minute work also new to New York, memorizes through tiny shifts in counterpoint between three groups of dancers. Usually, one scans dancers' counterpoint on a horizontal plane. But in ''Available Light'' Childs opens up the vertical plane by means of the set.

Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the set is a two-tiered stage. The dancers working on the higher stage not only expand the possibilities of counterpoint in an up-and-down pathway, but offer emotional resonance as well. At times the top tier seems to be pressing down on the lower in an oppressive way. At other times the reverse happens; the upper level suggests infinite height. The space soars.

At the end of the piece John Adams's dissonant, perambulating score gathers heat for the first time, and the lighting grows to white-heat intensity. An apocalypse has surely come, but as in ''Mad Rush,'' you don't know exactly from what source the feeling comes. For all one knows, that great surge of energy could derive from the utterly calm, pristine qualities of the dancing. That irony is the most exciting possibility of all.

In spite of the complex and expensively conceived productions of the New Wave festival, many of the programs will tour. Trisha Brown was in Washington earlier this month and following a tour of Europe will appear in February at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis and in cities in California. Also touring in early 1984 is ''The Photographer,'' in such cities as Madison, Wis.; St. Paul, Minn.; Washington; and Philadelphia. In the fall of 1984 Childs will take ''Available Light'' to cities in Texas and the Midwest and to Philadelphia and Boston.

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