Mae G. Banner
Baum and Company Dance Theatre
Theatre, April 30
There’s a reason Maude Baum calls her company Dance Theatre.
Founded in the 1970s and influenced by German expressionism,
the company is big on dances with meaning, often with theatrical
props and explosive talking. Sunday’s concert at the Palace
in Albany included satiric dances and dances of torment—and,
in Foodface, torment expressed as satire.
A pillar of the Albany dance scene, Baum presents salon concerts
every spring and fall in her compact studio at Hudson Avenue
and Lark Street. Transplanting these intimate dances to the
2800-seat Palace is a bold leap.
The seven dancers were up to the challenge. They are sturdy
and confident and they know how to hold the stage. Plus, they
were having a really good time with the “mean girls” competition
of Baum’s new Ballerina Barbies and the out-of-control
Foodface, an audience favorite from 1992.
Mary Beth Hampshire, Jade Miller, Deb Rutledge, and Sarah
Schmidt were the Ballerina Barbies in crisp costumes
that evoked Pierrette (Rutledge in a pancake white tutu and
pointy hat), Cleopatra (Schmidt in a wig of red tinsel), a
village girl from Coppelia and a romantic wafting a
These dolls enter with arms linked to dance the four baby
swans we know so well. Their precision soon devolves into
pushing and shoving and knocking each other down. Rutledge,
the alpha swan, recovers into a deep plie—a squat, actually—done
It goes on like that. The dancers prance, bourree, and galumph,
often to musical quotes from classical ballets. There are
cartwheels and somersaults, popguns and slingshots, vocal
squeaks and yelps, and just enough ensemble movement to show
that these are all good dancers.
They flee the scene, leaving bits of fluff and red tinsel
behind. An impassive stage hand cleans up the mess—a nice
touch that contrasts make-believe and regular work.
After the nonsense of Barbies, It took a while for
the dancers to get into the exalted spirit of the Isadora
Duncan dances that followed. These early 20th-century works
set to music of Chopin and Gluck and reconstructed for the
company by Duncan expert Jeanne Bresciani, are meant to be
pure responses to the music, which was performed live by Findlay
Cockrell, piano, and Elaine Newhall, flute.
The dancers—the original four plus Kate Bowen—were the picture
of health and uncorseted beauty in their flowy togas and bare
feet, their bodies molded by David Yergan’s sensitive lighting.
But, with the taste of Barbies still in my mouth, their
Valse Brillante looked too much like a satire on Duncan’s
The Nocturne was lovely. Rutledge discovers Bowen lying
on the ground like a slumbering nymph, and, with simple prayerful
gestures, revives her. Next, Hampshire, in fiery red, her
wrists bound with a red cord, danced the Revolutionary
Etude, conveying struggle and sudden triumph.
Newhall’s flute was a perfect foil for the three-part dance
to Gluck’s Orpheus. The dancers moved like a frieze
of goddesses come down from their pedestals. Here was Duncan’s
honesty and simplicity, her joyous sense of play danced full-out.
Torment ruled in Sometimes in My Mind, Always in My Heart,
a suite of four solos capped by a quartet to music of Nino
Rota and Enya. Baum showed the dance a couple of years ago
as a work in progress. It’s now coherent through the use of
similar moves in the solos and through spacing that suggests
each woman is an aspect of the whole.
Each dancer expresses anxiety in her own way. Miller is a
Lady Macbeth who writhes and shudders. Schmidt spins and falls
and knows not where to go. Rutledge, a powerful, musical dancer,
pivots on one hip, beats the ground, turns cartwheels in her
agony. Hampshire, sitting with her back to us on a folding
chair, arches back and sinks until her head touches the floor.
In the final ensemble section, the four wrap themselves in
a large black shroud and circle like a coven of witches. The
resolution comes when we see their heads and legs emerge from
the confines of the shroud. What was gloom becomes “we’re
all in this together.”
The final romp, Foodface, dissects American obsessions
with food. The full company, including Katie Newhall and Chris
Wilkins, chop, dice, pour, spill, argue loudly, soliloquize
mournfully, and also dance in a conga line and a mod swinging
procession. All this goes on around a long seminar table set
with bowls and jars and soda bottles for a great potluck.
Dancers juggle lettuces or lemons. They bring audience members
onstage to help make the guacamole. There’s a duet in which
Rutledge attaches a couple of ripe red tomatoes to her chest
and seduces Wilkins with these juicy breasts.
The whole thing ends in a free-for-all of Cool Whip and spaghetti
that will likely require more than one stagehand to mop up.