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Friday, May 15, 2020

Terpsichorean Duo

From the Dance Vault Dept.: It’s easy to see what I was doing one weekend in April 1986: attending dance concerts. I reviewed two of them in the same issue of the Schenectady Gazette, I retain pleasant memories of the experiences, and I offer them below.


PETER MAXWELL’S “BALLROOM DANCE THEATRE” is a show in the form of a series of dances for partners, the sort of thing linked to the name of Arthur Murray.

Peter Maxwell and partner
The performance yesterday afternoon in the Egg at the Empire State Plaza, Albany, was one of the first few this new company has given. It’s an original concept for a full-length show, it has moments of sheer wonder, and it ought to get better and better as the concept evolves.

At its best, it shows a company of four couples smoothly displaying the different aspects of a particular dance.

The tango sequence in the third act was the high point of the piece, bringing together excellent dance, attractive costumes, good music, and just enough characterization to carry through the six tango numbers.

Maxwell choreographed the bulk of the dances, with assistance both inside and out of the company. The individual couples boast long experience as partners and it shows in the dance; the challenge, then, must be to work out the method in which the dancers perform outside of their usual units.

A sequence titled “Holloywood Dances” provided one approach: keep the couples together but segue from one set to another.

A liability of the sequence is that all but two of the seven songs were introduced on the screen by Fred Astaire and/or Ginger Rogers, and that’s a precedent hard to top.

Missing was the easy elegance associated with that couple, which is more than a matter of costume.

The second act had a Spanish flavor and was danced with stunning bravura; the costumes went from tails and gowns to not very much and that all covered in sequins.

Following the third act’s tango set was a short “Big Band Boogie” that featuring selections from Glenn Miller hits danced in costume and with a wonderful sense of those wartime dances – here, too, the slight characterizations helped tremendously and the sequence could have gone on much longer.

The opener, “Vienna Nights,” brought out the company to waltz to “The Blue Danube,” the beauty of which was marred by the silly vocal track on the record. More care could be taken in the music transfers, and the tracks chosen could sport less obnoxious rhythm sections (especially in the Hollywood numbers).

Rufus Dustin and Sharon Savoy were stand-outs, particularly in their own “Somewhere in Time” (choreographed by Dustin); it would be hard, however, to choose favorites from the superb ensemble, comprising Ron Montez and Liz Curtis, Wilson Barrera and Margaret Burns, and Chuck Bannister and Bonita Vanderzell.

It will be no surprise when this show gains the good reputation it is bound to deserve. More cohesiveness in the number-to-number transitions will help, as will a few socko finales that will use the group as an ensemble. And a show like this will make anyone in the audience want to get up and dance.

– Schenectady Gazette, 21 April 1986


Dancing down Hubbard Street

IT IS AXIOMATIC TO ARTISTIC SUCCESS that when you borrow a tune or tradition, you should enrich or improve It. This is what the Hubbard Street Dance Company does, and explains why their performance Friday night at Proctor’s Theatre was received with shouts of enthusiasm.

Hubbard Street Dance Company
The company has shot to the forefront of modern dance groups during its few years of existence. The guiding hand of founder and artistic director Lou Conte obviously is a very good one.

The six pieces performed covered a broad range of stylings, but each was marked by elegant virtuosity in the dancing and a sly sense of humor in the choreography.

To the quick, natty beat of Jean-Luc Ponty’s Open Mind,” a single dancer races across the stage for the start of “It’s Your Move.” Other scurrying figures follow, each dressed in white with splashes of pastel. The dance itself combines a free-wheeling look at street movement with the wry counterpoint of individuals in a frenzy or in stasis.

At one point it looked like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” goes Yuppie with a parade of frozen-faced people slowly trucking across the stage. Choreography was by company member (and assistant artistic director) Claire Bataille.

From Ponty to Stravinsky for the next selection, John McFall’s Tiempo.” A giddy set of movements to the third of Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo” brought some giggles for Kitty Skillman; the audience was very amused, then, to see Alberto Arias go through the same movements at double the speed (as the piece was played twice as fast). To finish, Leela de Souza and Susan Parker mirrored one another dancing to the original speed while Skillman and Arias joined them halfway through again twice as fast.

This level of wit also characterized the rest of the program. “Appearances” begins with three elegantly-dressed couples (men in white, women drenched in black) who remove and/or exchange clothing: “Cobras in the Moonlight” took us to a stylized Spanish cafe for a set of four dances (to accordion ensemble) with an appropriately Latin feel.

If “First Turn” was the weak point of the evening, it was only because the charming choreography was hampered by the accompaniment of George Winston’s endless piano ramblings.

The program ended with a company trademark: “The 40's,” choreographed by Conte to two cuts recorded for (but not used in) the movie “New York, New York”: Ralph Burns’s original “V.J. Stomp” and the Sy Oliver chestnut “Opus One.”

– Schenectady Gazette, 21 April 1986

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