Alive and kicking

The 10th annual Keeping Dance Alive concert brought diverse dance styles to a packed Laxson Auditorium

WANNA BE LIKE BRITNEY? <br>The spirit of modern dance was present as pop jazz influences, among other current styles, marked this year’s Keeping Dance Alive<i> </i>concert.

The spirit of modern dance was present as pop jazz influences, among other current styles, marked this year’s Keeping Dance Aliveconcert.

Photo by Tom Angel

The 10th annual Keeping Dance Alive repertory concert brought some 90 exuberant dancers and an enthusiastic audience to Chico State University’s Laxson Auditorium last weekend.

A major arts effort, this event results from a collaboration of several Chico groups: Friends of the Chico Community Ballet Company, Chico Creek Dance Center and Chico Performances. It offers choreographers and dancers of Northern California an opportunity to create and perform original works in a variety of styles.

While diversity is one of the criteria for selection, in the early years classical ballet often took precedence over other styles. However, the trend has been away from ballet toward jazz dance, and this year’s program continued that trend.

Whether this will ultimately be beneficial to the art of dance remains for future years to determine. Whether “pure” ballet will join grand opera, madrigal singing and the Lindy hop as the province of scholarly studies depends on the aspirations of our young dancers. So long as they persist in modeling on Britney Spears, the move toward pop jazz dance will continue.

This year’s dances were fun and the dancers well trained. and the numerous jazz pieces often revealed a fusion with other styles. “Kati,” for example, was distinguished by undulating moves incorporated from Middle Eastern dancing. Choreographed by Jarrah Myles and enhanced by some drop-dead purple sequin costumes, it made for a lively opening. “Exploration” showed the influence of yoga, and “Fly Girlz” came through as a sassy hip-hop dance. Chico State’s dance troupe, Expressions, offered “All Alone,” involving dizzying spins and heavy percussion, while black derbies, red shirts and glowing red lighting marked “Tainted Love,” a jazz piece by Joe Istre of Ballet North.

Two lyrical dances, “Eden” and “Perpetuality,” presented softer themes. Young women appeared to be either goddesses or vestal virgins in Eden, “where God has placed the man He has formed,” states the choreographer, Marcie Chinchen. This was a beautiful and haunting dance with a complex theme, neither Christian nor pagan. Somewhat related, “Perpetuality” suggested that “peace is available to us when we allow life to flow around and through us,” writes its maker, Pamela C Huggins.

A nod to Broadway, the martial arts, and Irish dance provided diversity at Friday night’s performance. Pat Haley’s group of black-belt students, including both men and women, offered a fresh view of karate as dance in “Hakasuru.” The hypnotic piece based on ancient forms opened with a formal Asian bow and moved throughout with ballet-like precision against a glowing sunset background. Haley should be commended for exploring this aspect of his chosen profession.

Two selections took a retro look at the art of dance. Melinda Buzan, the choreographer of “Enter the Cabaret,” acknowledged the influence of Broadway’s Bob Fosse and the original Cabaret. This influence, combined with Liza Minnelli’s recording of “Mein Herr,” helped raise the quality of this piece to a professional level. The pre-war theme of decadence developed as dancers in black lingerie and thigh high hose strutted, twisted, cavorted, bent, writhed and kicked in a strong dance that could have held its own in the original musical. It was frenetic, sensual, bold, vulgar, fun and yes … sexy.

The second backward glance occurred in “Having a Ball Tonight.” Choreographer Joe Garrow calls his creation “a simple dance … that pays tribute to the street dancers and hoofers in days of old.” He and his troupe energetically kept dance alive as they tapped their way through time steps and maxifords in costumes that were first adopted by teenage girls in the late ‘30s—jeans and oversize shirts.

Irish step dancing brought “She Gone to Sea” to the local stage. Dancers from Maria Oliver’s class donned sailor suits and bright, brocaded dresses to tap out the driving rhythms, and an intricate sense of entrances, exits and groupings held audience interest.

Closing the program was “Silence Before Dawn,” danced by the Chico Community Ballet Company. Creator Kenneth Walker has set this ballet to the cutting edge music of Philip Glass, and the two elements work well together.

Ending with a ballet piece indeed provided closure to a fine showcase. While I believe in bringing more men into dance would have a salutary effect, perhaps invigorating it with a still-absent lustiness, and that such international styles as African, Caribbean and Latin dances could go a long way in adding diversity, the full house on Friday night, which spread into the balcony’s upper reaches, proved that dance is very much alive in Chico.