Two troupes in one English town offer a study in contrasts
With so many forms of self-expression offered in the contemporary dance world today, it was interesting to find two very different styles performing within a week of each other in the county town of Guildford, Surrey, recently.
While one translated A. A. Milne's Pooh and Piglet world of childhood fantasy into a theatrical experience for all ages, the other chose a dance version of ''Notorious,'' a dramatic 1940s Hitchcock espionage film, with dancers patterning themselves on the distinctive mannerisms of film stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.
The dance companies of ''Janet Smith and Dancers'' and ''Second Stride'' have both earned public recognition by producing quality and first-class entertainment.
Both tour constantly, offering the non-London goer a glimpse of the great leaps being made by modern dance today. Both companies have also successfully appeared in the United States.
Janet Smith's company (six dancers and a musical director) sparkled like dappled sunshine, warming the audience with its simple, wholesome style, conveying a freedom that's fun, easy to look at, and above all, joyous.
In their week's run at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (Yvonne Arnaud) they offered two programs: four short works and later the full-length ballet based on moments taken from Milne's ''Now We Are Six'' and the Pooh stories.
By contrast, ''Second Stride'' presented a more aggressive, more intense and worldly approach in its dancing when it appeared at the University of Surrey for two evenings. It also offered some very interesting choreography, graphically interpreting the emotive elements in their two selected pieces.
Second Stride is an unusual company in that it is formed for just a few months each year as a venue for producing new British works. In 1982, its first year, it appeared in New York and was praised for presenting a truly British style of contemporary dance, not one influenced by American or European methods.
The company's first piece at the university was ''Silent Partners.'' Soundless except for breathless pantings and footfalls, it saw nine dancers reacting differently in mixed partnerings.
Then the scene was transformed to an enclosed room whose walls were a huge wide-angle photo of Rio (taken from ''Notorious'') with a decor, in black lacquer, of five shiny doors and two beds.
Emulating Grant's suaveness and Bergman's coolness, different dancers took over the leading roles, relating the plot in great detail.
However, every dramatic moment in ''Further and Further Into Night'' was then performed, ripple-like, in triplicate, by the other three couples - interesting to begin with, but it began to hang rather heavily toward the end. The music, repetitive in style with difficult rhythms, added another focus to the unusual but fascinating dance scenario.
Janet Smith, whose gentle and calm manner is expressed in her dancing, made her debut going solo in 1975 after studying modern dance in the US with teachers such as Cunningham and Wagoner.
She formed her group a year later and for six years it has toured widely in Britain and overseas. In 1983 Janet shot to dance stardom when she produced the ballet ''Enchanted Places.'' A unique piece of work, it has a special place in dance circles, for it reintroduced young children of today's push-button age back into the world of imagination. Dance here was the skeleton on which the production hung, although the company had to draw on other talents such as singing and acting.
The pint-sized matinee audience at Guildford sat engrossed throughout, watching Piglet burst Eeyore's birthday balloon, Pooh presenting his empty jar of Hunny, the kidnap of little Roo, and Tigger's bouncing.
The earlier program gave ample opportunity to assess the company's dancing capabilities when it presented a quartet of pieces that had dancers running, jumping, spinning across the stage.
To the music of wartime favorites sung by the Andrews Sisters, to the strains of Tchaikovsky, to Stravinsky, and to the clanging rhythms of Indonesia, the company displayed, individually and collectively, a natural love for this freedom of movement.