Perhaps playing off that popular Christmas song about a young percussionist, Dance Alloy Theater has titled its season-opener A Different Drummer. But the show, at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater Dec. 7-10, features drumming of a different sort. And all in all, it's not your typical holiday entertainment.
The program's three dance works begin with "Duet," which premiered as part of DAT's 2004 season. Choreographed by the acclaimed Pilobolus Dance Theater's trio of artistic directors -- Robby Barnett, Michael Tracy and Allison Chase -- "Duet" is a slow-motion entwining of bodies set to music based on medieval songs from Norway. The pas de deux seeks beauty in both the physical and emotional connections between the dancers.
Meanwhile, visiting choreographer Marina Harris' revamped "Table of Content" (echoing some lyrics by fellow Canadian Neil Young) has gone "out of the blue and into the black." The work, first performed by Dance Alloy in 2005 as "Blue Quartet," has been re-worked from a quartet, with dancers costumed in blue, to a quintet, with dancers in black. Set to an eclectic musical mix from composers Gavin Bryars and Olivier Messiaen, and a group of Portuguese accordion players, "Table of Content" is essentially about relationships.
"It begins with younger relationships and moves into more adult ones as it progresses," says Harris, by phone from her home in Halifax. The work is composed of a series of vignettes that are mischievous, humorous and at times poignant. It's intact from the 2004 version, says Harris, except for some tweaking to accommodate a new cast and the addition of a new vignette, in which DAT's dancers perform to the sound of swooshing skirts. And despite her reservations about whether it fits, Harris' popular bubble-gum scene -- in which the dancers compete to stretch large wads of gum into various shapes -- remains, in all its sticky and creative glory.
The evening's third work -- and the one with the drumming -- was originally envisioned as a percussive dance in the style of David Parker's New York-based Bang Group. But the choreographer ditched that vision for "After the Beat" in favor of one he felt better suited Dance Alloy Theater.
Parker's new vision for the 20-minute piece is about pairing DAT's movement aesthetic with a strict rhythmic structure that doesn't quite mesh.
Although he's known for making humorous dance works, Parker says in most cases that's not his goal. "I never know if a dance work is going to be funny or not," says Parker by phone from New York City. "I don't intend it to be, really; it is audiences and performers that connect with it in some way that makes people laugh."
Parker believes that the mix of elements in his works is surprising enough that people laugh at the incongruities. That might be the case with "After the Beat," which begins with the drumming of Pittsburgh's Dilworth Traditional Academy World Drummers. The talented 9- and 10-year-olds will play three selections, providing what Parker considers the work's "rhythmic background. That leads into the dance itself, which will be performed to the music of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.
Dance Alloy Theater's A Different Drummer promises to lend a different beat to the usual dance offerings around the holiday season, one favoring invention over tradition.
Dance Alloy Theater presents A Different Drummer Fri., Dec. 7-Mon., Dec. 10. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. $20 ($15 students/seniors; the Dec. 9 show is pay-what-you-can). 412-363-4321 or www.dancealloy.org