Song and dance
Two spring arts events make for a busy weekend on campus
Chico Community Ballet’s latest Keeping Dance Alive program and the CSU Music Department’s latest concert played across the street from one another this past weekend. Both were good shows.
By and large, Keeping Dance Alive was fresh, brightly costumed and cleverly choreographed. It opened with a couple of catchy works, sagged a bit in the middle, and then came on with a strong second half.
I particularly liked the show’s opening numbers, the Amy Seiwert/Phaedra Jarrett “Enamored,” a classical, this-girl-or-that-girl routine set to a Chopin piano trio, and the Mary M. Sweeney “Step-by-Step Gardening,” cleverly depicting three rows of farmers (blue overalls, red shirts) working three overlapping rows of corn and moving on to tap-dance/mime various other farming activities.
The costumes were impressive throughout: the boogie-dancing couples in “Addicted to Ballroom,” the black skirt-shawls that could be attached to other dancers in “Bound,” the red-and-black flamenco outfits in “Celebration” and the ghoulish dress of “Thriller.”
The pieces that worked less well for me were the ones for which the choreographers retreated from developing their original conceptions and reverted to the same pounding two-beat jazz dancing. “Addicted to Ballroom” backed away from its bubbly boogie-woogie opening, much as “Celebration” backed away from its initial flamenco. Even “Thriller” made nothing of the gravestones with which it began and only minimally developed its theme.
The final seven dances were solidly enjoyable. Catherine Sullivan Sturgeon’s “Portraits I.III” was an affecting, Victorian-era tribute to Little Women, and Mary and Maria Houar’s “Shag Another Day” was a cute spoof of Austin Powers, featuring a Powers look-alike (Jonathan Wolheim) and a bevy of luminescent-wigged retro-flappers. Genevieve M-Peña’s “Bring It On,” with its dancers’ colorful red-silk trousers, was rich in tight choreography, while Beverlee Perry’s “Choices,” with its gauze-covered faces and striking brown pullovers, worked well to former Chico dancer/choreographer Luis Santos’ music.
The show ended solidly with three works: Joe Garrow’s crisp “Diggy-Diggy, Bop,” tap-danced by competing, star-costumed dancers; Hélène Hogue’s “Strings,” interestingly built around the cello and violin lines from Third Eye Open’s A String Tribute to Tool, and Kenneth Walker’s “Take Me Home,” playfully danced by brightly costumed figures in red-and-white, Buster Brown-era school outfits—all to U2’s occasionally ominous “Passengers.”
Across the street, CSU Choral Director Geoffrey Gemmell’s “Expedition of Recovery and Discovery” was similarly pleasurable. After moving somewhat rapidly through rather un-legato arrangements of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and Mozart’s “Ave Verum,” the University Chorus settled nicely into Beethoven’s delightful “Choral Fantasia,” a surprisingly delicate series of vocal experiments involving the tune that would eventually evolve into the better-known “Ode to Joy” of the Ninth Symphony.
This was followed by a number of chorales and choruses from the recently “recovered” and recently Chico-performed St. Matthew Passion, by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (Johann’s son). Accompanied by a small musical ensemble, CPE Bach’s Passion was an engaging mix of his father’s chorales (which had generally dropped out of fashion by the mid-18th century) and his own rococo-styled solos and choruses, with their pretty decorations and sweet, song-like melodies.
Then the A Cappella Choir/Chamber Singers sang three energetic works from 18th-century New England composers William Billings and Samuel Holyoke before proceeding on to bits of three masses by Franz Joseph Haydn and his less-known brother, Michael. Although this curious collection made the concert’s first half too long, it was fascinating to pick out the differences between the two brothers’ styles and enjoy the bright, Handel-like qualities of Michael Haydn’s work.
Save for two smaller pieces, the concert concluded with a particularly striking work (a “discovery” commissioned by Chico and Fresno state universities and premiered only a month ago), Bradley Nelson’s 9/11-commemorating For Whom the Bell Tolls, sung by the Chamber Singers. This impressive modern composition followed a searing take on Wilfred Owen’s "Anthem for Doomed Youth" with a warmly rolling arrangement of John McCrae’s better-known "In Flanders Fields" and a sweetly soothing "Agnus Dei"—beautiful.