`Next Wave' offers a diverting British band and a dance troupe
New York — A pleasing British band has made its American debut, and cheers are in order. The Penguin Caf'e Orchestra, as offbeat as its name, is a welcome addition to the new-music scene. In keeping with current fashion, the Penguin style is eclectic -- choosing themes, techniques, and devices from all kinds of sources and mingling them into a fresh new sound. One tune recalls an old English dance, another has the droning undertones of today's ``minimalism,'' a third pulses to a rock-like beat. Instruments include a traditional string trio, a harmonium, and a ukelele or two.
Sound gimmicky or pretentious? That's exactly what the Penguin crew isn't. Their pieces tend to be short and sprightly, with effects played for what they're worth and never strung out or exploited. Even when leader Simon Jeffes hauls out a toy ``electric autoharp'' it's no trick, leading to a piece that's as thought-out as it is good-natured.
Only the group's titles are precious, trying too hard like ``Prelude and Yodel'' or straining for puns like ``Isle of View.'' Also unnecessary was the icily exotic dancing of Gillian McGregor during the band's engagement in the ``Next Wave'' series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, although her d'ecor for the stage -- a few large, upended fish -- was appealing. And very, very Penguinish.
Equally eclectic in a recent ``Next Wave'' evening was the Mark Morris Dance Group, which also taps into a dizzying range of sources and inspirations. Just look at the music that accompanied its BAM program: Vivaldi for the vivacious ``Gloria,'' a traditional piece from India for the solo ``O Rangasayee,'' and Synclavier II computer sounds -- mixed with crowd noises -- for the accurately titled ``Championship Wrestling After Roland Barthes.'' The dancing styles were no less varied, although each work meshed nicely with its cousins. ``Gloria'' mingled ecstatic leaps and turns (in a stimulating not-quite-in-unison manner) with bluntly postmodern walks and crawls. ``O Rangasayee,'' an arduous solo for choreo grapher Morris, crossed cultural lines as smoothly as do the best pieces by current Eastern-influenced composers. The bravura ``Wrestling'' match isolated snippets of behavior associated with two kinds of hostility -- fighting and the watching of fights -- and deciphered their body-language codes with a wit and incisiveness that would surely have pleased the French philosopher it pays homage to. In all, a diverse and diverting program.