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A delicate balance: Schmidt in “Sometimes In My Mind, Always In My Heart.”

Fabled History
By Mae G. Banner

Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre
The Egg, May 3

‘Stick to your trade” is the moral Maude Baum pronounces as Aesop’s wolf and donkey caper offstage. That rule has served her well for 30 years of dancemaking.

“Aesop’s Fables,” (1987) which opened the company’s 30th anniversary concert Saturday at the Egg, is an apt example of Baum’s unwavering taste for the theatrical and her love of a good joke. Jamie Cunningham’s playful choreography and goofy characterizations appeal to children, yet “Fables” has a stylish wit that speaks to adults.

Baum is the wizard in black cloak who narrates the half-dozen familiar and lesser-known fables. She reads from a large book, delivering each tale in a matter-of-fact tone that also seems to let us in on secrets the silly animals can’t fathom.

The stage set is simple—some multipurpose cubes and a ladder—and the costumes are fabulously funny concoctions of feather boas and Italian Renaissance masks pulled from a thespian’s trunk. Like the dancing, the costumes work on both literal and fantastic levels.

Sarah Schmidt, in purple lame, is a tantalizing bunch of grapes, always out of reach of the fox, who is danced by Deb Rutledge in football jersey and helmet. Schmidt does a slinky backbend over the top of the ladder, teasing the lumbering Rutledge with a cantilevered arm or leg.

Next, Rutledge becomes the low, slow tortoise to Mary Beth Cole’s lively hare. She carries on the race with effortful swivels of her bent legs, finally leaving a weeping Cole behind. In one of the dance’s “wink, wink; nudge, nudge” asides to the audience, Baum leaves her chair to bring the Hare a hanky.

She gets up again at the end of “The Swan and the Sparrow,” spreading her arms wide so that her cloak covers the exit of Lynda Capocefalo’s fallen sparrow, who foolishly tried to be a swan. Cole is a beguiling swan, slowly spinning in her medieval princess’ hat and scarf and filmy white hoop skirt, while Capocefalo twitters around her.

Spare piano music by Vincent Persichetti provides the right astringent note for these cautionary tales.

The well-chosen program included two expressive dances by Baum, made 20 years apart. “Sometimes in My Mind, Always in My Heart” (2002) was filled with agitation, while “Ennui” (1982) was a floaty, patterned dance with an art-nouveau look.

“Sometimes . . . ” is a quartet of four solos to string music of Nino Rota. Capocefalo begins it with a rooted, shoulder-rolling passage that gradually swings into freer movement. Still, she’s never fully free. She leans down at an angle, plants one hand on the floor, and pivots around it.

Schmidt leaps in with extreme splits, falls, and slow rolls. Striding off, then jumping back, she seems not to know where she is or which way to go. She hangs her head, then spins in a magnified gesture of indecision that leaves her in a lump on the ground.

Rutledge raises the stakes with spins and jagged jumps, cartwheels and somersaults, and distraught breast-beating that finally knocks her to the ground. Agitation now approaches insanity.

Cole, the last soloist, sits on a cube, rocking and twisting her fingers. When she discovers her lank ponytail and begins to slap her face with it, she has taken the dance over the line into the madness traced in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

In quiet contrast, “Ennui” put me in mind of a 19th-century pottery vase embossed with clusters of blossoms. Capocefalo sits at a small table, sipping from a tiny cup. At the far end of the stage, Beth Hartle appears and begins to pace and circle before her. The women in plum-colored jersey dresses overlaid with one-sleeved translucent black tunics are mirror images of each other.

They move in opposite directions to the music of Kevin Bartlett, bending or contracting, but on different planes. They stretch the stage space on a full diagonal, then move to the center to grasp hands, break apart and sink to their backs. Capocefalo returns to her seat. Is she the dreamer and Hartle her dream? It’s a chiffon-draped mystery that looks beautiful on the Egg’s stage.

“Nanigismo” (1984), a dance for five made by Kevin Wynn to the idiosyncratic music and vocalizing of Meredith Monk, showed the company’s abstract side. A highly patterned work filled with leaping shapes and springing shadows, it gained extra mischief from Monk’s nutty music and parrotlike squawks. Raul Martinez joined Cole, Hartle, Schmidt and Rutledge in the group antics.

As an epilogue, Baum donned a towering red-plumed headdress to introduce the Community Celebration Dance that she and 30 years’ worth of Baum Company dancers and crew will repeat on May 11 on the Washington Park stage as part of the Tulip Fest. A parade of wildly different dancers of all ages and genders bopped across the stage, each in their own style, and spoke a word or two about the power of dance in their lives. They danced in a circle, then subsided onto their backs in a sunburst shape, while other dancers skipped around them, scattering pink and white petals. Happy anniversary.

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