The Yale Rep opens its 1997-98 season with a dance-theater piece from the Ralph Lemon Company. Essentially a celebration of African dancing and drumming, “Geography” is a casual, unstructured piece that has visual moments of some power but which is far too opaque to welcome audiences into its world.
The first part of a planned trilogy that will eventually include dance explorations of Asia and America, Lemon’s piece is performed by dancers from Africa, Guinea and the U.S., its music spanning similar terrain. Incredibly fierce drumming plays a leading role in the production, as does limber, loping, barefoot dancing. Between various elements the performers wander around the dramatically lit stage as if in rehearsal rather than performance.
The pounding of bare hands and feet accompanies much of “Geography,” though there are also stretches of electronic soundscapes culminating in an ever louder droning noise that grows to jet-engine pitch. There are moments when the proceedings aren’t far removed from the vigorous male stomping of “Tap Dogs,” while at other times the mood is more of a slow, esoteric modern dance.
The minimal text consists of abstractly used words in several languages as well as ululation and repetitions of such simple words as “more” and “room.” The production’s major visual coup is a series of curtains made of strung-together bottles, the floating, colored-glass effect truly beautiful. But like much else onstage, the bottle curtain is presented with no explanation, leaving the audience to wonder just what it has to do with the rest of the production. For all its physicality, “Geography” offers far too few signposts, a problem that should and could be rectified before the production moves on to other venues (including the Brooklyn Academy of Music).