Live (And Lively) Music Works Well With Graney Dance Group

The Pat Graney Company with the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet and Ranch Romance, last night at Meany Theater. Performances tonight and Sunday night (none Saturday) at 8:00 p.m. Ticket prices $14 and $12.50; $2 off for students and seniors. 32-DANCE (323-2623). --------------------------------------------------------------- The Allegro! Dance Festival kicked off its season last night with a Pat Graney double bill, "Sax House" and "Jesus Loves the Little Cowgirls."

Graney is a thinking person's choreographer. Her gift is her ability take big handfuls of seemingly disparate inspirations and meld them into richly textured and almost seamless works. The images that emerge from this process are striking both visually and emotionally.

Her latest work, "Sax House", premiered last night and is a collaboration with the Billy Tipton Memorial Sax Quartet. It's the first time that she has worked with live music, and she has taken advantage of all the opportunities presented. The musicians are an integral part of this piece, and they take the stage before the dancers do.

When the curtain goes up, there is a floor-to-ceiling slice of bright white light emanating from an opening in the backdrop. The saxophonists - Amy Denio, Marjorie deMuynck, Stacie Luebs, and Barbara Marino - walk through this column of light, onto the stage. It's as though the source of the music is being beamed in from another place.

The four musicians and six dancers work through 10 musical segments that range from sultry and smoky to purely percussive. Graney has taken cues from the music in creating the movement. There are two staccato passages which give rise to crisp twitching moves, a segment in which the dancers burst out of tightly coiled spins like twisted rubber bands set free, and some heavy-lidded tango music accompanied by corny partner dancing.

The saxophonists are not just standing around and providing music. Graney gives them moves, too. They rearrange themselves for each segment, sometimes with the help of the dancers, who, at various times, pick them up, turn them around, and drag them to different positions.

The themes that Graney explores in "Sax House" are subliminal and metaphorical: sheer athletic strength, the prickly energy that can come from relationships. In contrast, the theme in "Jesus Loves the Little Cowgirls" is abundantly clear: kitschy, cheerful fun.

"Cowgirls" is set to a patchwork of lovesick country tunes performed live by Ranch Romance. The Graney mixture in this one contains, among other ingredients, drill teams in cheerleader outfits, calf roping, and American Sign Language. In particular, Graney uses American Sign Language to great effect by expressing woe-is-me, my-man-done-me-wrong in a solo, kneeling on the floor in the puddle of a spotlight.

"Sax House" and "Jesus Loves the Little Cowgirls" have very different looks and feels, but both bear the Graney stamp of strong images that are meant to intrigue. And now that she has a permanent company with which to work, perhaps she will be able to intrigue us more often.