ALL of the above were on view when Britain's largest dance festival, ``Dance Umbrella'' snapped open this autumn to show some of today's trends on the contemporary dance scene. Lasting eight weeks and held in five venues in London, and in other cities in Britain, the annual festival, now in its ninth year, attracted participants from Europe, the United States, and Japan as well as from Britain.
Contemporary dance is constantly breaking into new fields. The trend now seems to be: If it moves, then it's dance. But it comes packaged in many disguises these days, as Dance Umbrella revealed.
Some companies resorted to crudeness for success, others showed talent by their movement. It all boils down to a matter of taste. On show were many contrasting forms of self-expression. Many could be classified as mimed extravaganzas, for it was their theatricality - not their dance - that held the audiences' attention.
The five dancers in Belgian Marc Vanrunxt's Company vacillated between slow-motioned carbon copies of each other and sped-up aggressive stampings in their 90-minute piece. The sea, wind, and mammal sounds were pitted against the harshness of the artificial world - here depicted by the decadent, turn-of-the-century ``Can-Can,'' whose kicks, splits, and leg twirls were cynically ridiculed. While Vanrunxt has devised some clever patterns and movements, this piece lost impact - and audience - because of its length and repetitions.
``The Angel of Death is in My Bed Tonight'' by Ashley Page, a member of the Royal Ballet, offered the opposite - too much visually to take in at one viewing. Here we had heavy metal done with balletic grace! Modeled on Ingmar Bergman's ``The Seventh Seal,'' it proved an hour of unusual, if somewhat austere choreography, performed by a cast of five. As the Messenger, Page wore a bald skull and much makeup. The ``Angel,'' dressed in metal corsetry and skin-tight Bermudas made of black leather, trailed a long black veil, which was attached to her hair by a Statue of Liberty-like spiked headdress. A junkyard mobile of metal oddments hung from the ceiling and was struck by the dancers at the end of this theatrical spectacular whose theme eluded me (and others).
Page is a talented choreographer (he has been producing since 1984), and in ``Angel'' he freely mixes different forms of dance - classical pointe shoes with bare feet and jazz slippers, pointed toes and flexed feet, turned-out positions and turned-in. But he has reached the crossroads now and runs the risk of falling away from his own style by imitating the weird, gimmicky works of Michael Clark.
In contrast to the deafening blast of ``Angel'' was the soporific torpor of Biko and Koma's ``Grain,'' which moved at a snail's pace in the mold of the Japanese classical art of Butoh. Every element of this pristine production was fastidiously planned to create images of artistic beauty. The stage was a stark, rectangular box on which lay a single futon mattress. Starting naked, then in oversized diapers, then T-shirts, the couple performed a ritual that suggested the creation and development of man. From foetal positions and awkward walking on turned-in legs, woman progressed faster and showed her domination by perching, birdlike, on the man's crouching form. Along with the oh-so-slow movements were symbolic scatterings of handfuls (and even footfuls) of raw rice. At the finale, the man offered a candle-lit tray of rice, now cooked, to the woman, who greedily stuffed the food into her mouth while he satisfied his own hunger.
Another view of the woman's world - this time in ``Grace and Glitter'' by the Extemporary Dance Theatre - combined movement, recorded text, chatter, and old tunes sung off-pitch. Among the assorted paraphernalia that becomes part of her world - a refrigerator, pots and pans, washing machine, etc. - six versatile young women with a sense of theater and humor showed episodes of the nice and the nasty stages of growing up. When they did dance, they showed a nimbleness and freedom but no specific technique. Most of the time was spent in mimed action. This also happened with DV8's disturbing production, ``My Body, Your Body,'' which violently dealt with male-female relationships and consisted of stomping, falling, posing, and staring, repeated over and over. Of their dance abilities we saw very little. The piece, although popular, resorted to vulgarity to win attention.