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LEGENDS OF DANCE
At the Boston Conservatory Dance
Legends of Dance, presented by the Boston Conservatory Dance Theater this past weekend, displayed the talents of its students through an eclectic mix of choreography. "Pas de Quatre," "The Unsung," and "Tongue in Cheek" combined traditional ballet with modern dance in a tribute to famous dancers and choreographers of the performance world.
Although the transition between numbers was stylistically jarring, the sequence of pieces provided a welcome change from typically monothematic ballet performances.
The first selection, "Pas de Quarte," choreographed by Jules Perrot, was originally tailored to showcase the abilities of the 19th century's premiere ballerinas: Marie Taglioni, Carla Grisi, Fanny Cerrito and Lucile Grahn. This epic performance by the four dancers became infamous for its air of heated rivalry, each woman vying for the spotlight and the audience's attention. In this 20th century rendition, four women re-enacted the parts of these famous ballerinas. The Conservatory students amusingly portrayed this onstage tension through exaggerated, flowery arm movements and strained smiles, plastered across the face of each dancer. The underlying competition, acted out by these histrionic ballerinas, constituted the most entertaining aspect of an otherwise conventional piece of choreography.
The opening of "Pas de Quatre" entailed the four statuesque dancers en pointe, fluttering across the stage in symmetrical configurations. As each attempted to outdo the next with instant charm gushing out of the numerous pas de bras and arabesques, it became humorously evident that the small Conservatory stage was not expansive enough to accommodate the simulated egos of such tutu-ed princesses. The simplicity of the choreography complimented the complex interplay of rivaling ballerinas, and each dancer carried off her role with distinct glares and cross-stage sneers.
Just as the audience developed an affinity for the graceful movements and structured technique of traditional ballet, Jose Limon's "The Unsung," a piece evocative of American Indian ceremonies, jolted everyone out of their seats with its stark contrast in mood. The seven dancers, each representing a historical Indian figure, writhed and twisted across the stage to a silent rhythm maintained only by the stomping of feet and the slapping of palms. The backdrop was illuminated by sprays of colored light, shifting shape and texture with each transition in the choreography. The audience was overwhelmed by the sheer strength of movement and the intensity of the combinations, both enhanced by the prowess of the Conservatory dancers. Each solo was marked by particular nuances: expansive arm movements, sweeping lunges, and rhythmic patterns of stomping. No musical accompaniment was necessary to supplement the piece's climaxes in mood, which were matched by the heaving chests and abrupt breaths of the powerful dancers. Limon's Native American style of choreography created an otherworldly ambiance and spiritual under-toning, immersing the audience in its animalistic quality of dance.
The world premiere of faculty member Monica Levy's "Tongue in Cheek" rounded off this diverse program of 19th century old-school ballet and unconventional tribal dance-steps. This jazzy medley of five vignettes set to Gershwin classics celebrates the 1998 Gershwin Centennial with its toe-tapping tunes and playful pas de deux between the 10 male and female performers. The costumes and make-shift veranda almost seemed lifted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, as the stunning starlettes shimmied amongst the debonnaire gents in brazen precocity. One was almost tempted to swoon vicariously through the dancers as they linked arms and flirtatiously strode side-by side to the lyrics of "Embracable You" and "That Certain Feeling." Levy's piece, although set to classic show tunes, was far from a run-of-the-mill combo of mechanical jazz choreography. On the contrary, the number surprised the audience with interesting twists and turns, dips and swivels, in an unforgettably light-hearted performance. From Perrot to Gershwin, the three diametrically opposed numbers carried the audience members through a wide array of musical and dance genres.
On the whole, the Conservatory's production of "Legends of Dance" left one with both a sense of spiritual fulfillment and a Gershwin-induced grin. One hopes that the Conservatory can maintain this happy medium of avante-garde and traditional flavors of dance.
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