Jazz Dance Workshop

At Agassiz tonight and Saturday

The Jazz Dance Workshop has put together an entertaining evening of ballet. Its program of eight short pieces, though uneven, has moments which are truly exciting.

It has all the problems of any amateur dance production. The dancers are a little unsure on their feet, and as they finish steps, they jerk to regain their balance. This flaw in technique is especially obvious in Eric Lessinger's "Moment Mechanique"--itself an unoriginal interpretation of Shostakovich's metallic music. The three dancers click about the stage doll-like in a dance that should be tight and disturbing but is simply dull.

Luckily, almost all of the dancers find their confidence and their balance by the second half of the program and the choreography improves immeasurably. Lessinger's solo to the poem "The Creation" is a hymn to the human body. It is an intense delight to watch his perfect control over the power in his legs and arms as they carve out the earth.

But it is also intensely annoying that each line of the poem is read after he has danced it, as if a lecturer were explaining Lessinger's movements. Reading the lines before they are danced would better give the audience a feeling of sharing in the emotions that inspired the movements.

Lessinger is excellent, but it is by no means a one-man evening. To an electric guitar throbbing out Beatles music, Colin Godfrey and Donna Jo Napoli give the excitement and pain of two bodies so close that they almost touch, much touch, but don't. As their hands near each other, they shiver with the electricity, then break away. The number falls just short of brilliance. At the last moment, the bodies intertwine, but the atmosphere is drained as the piece drags on a few seconds too long.

The Workshop's greatest strength are its mood pieces. In "Moonring" Ellen Miller has given us a weird and lovely moon-misted night to Leornard Bernstein's music. But she fails to do justice to Bernstein's lyrical passages. The music is brightest in the last half of the piece, but the ballet is almost painful, with too many dancers jumping up and down on too small a stage.

For the most part, however, the Workshop has recognized the limitations both of the stage and the dancers. The evening ends with a delightful, foot-tapping ballet to Ramsey Lewis' "Wade in the Water." Choreographer Ron Porter is in perfect control of all the dancers and has them all swinging together for a gay finale.

If gravity is getting you down these days, go see the Jazz Workshop.