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Mostly Nontraditional Jazz Under Foot

FOOTNOTES Mainly Jazz Dance Co. & Harvard Radcliffe Ballet Co. Ricman Center for Performing Arts Dec. 4 & 5.


Perhaps the best thing about last weekend's joint Mainly Jazz, and Harvard-Radcliffe Bullet Company performance was that it consisted of neither mainly jazz nor mainly ballet. Both companies--along with the guest appearance of the athletic Crimson Dance Team--challenged the traditional genres of dance. Aptly titled "Footnotes," (each number yielded a genninely new inter-pretation) the show offered some of the most energetic dance and choreography in recent Harvard memory.

The ballet company lowered the audience's guard with a lovely--if highly traditional--opening dance from the opera Sanson and Dclilah, only to follow it with the first big surprise of the evening. "Souls of Steel," a raucous and percussive piece that electrified that Reiman Center, setting up an energy that lasted all night.

Of all the ballet company's pieces, though, the most refreshing was "In the Jazz Club," an almost incidental piece choreographed by company member Kiesha Minyard '99. Dancers Nozomi Nishimura '98, Sunny Wong '01, Erin Conroy '01, Kristi Schaeffer '00 and Selene Kaye '01, glided across the stage with the sleek black clothes and the shmaltzy moves of the Jazz Age hepcats.

The choreography was spare; the dancers slinked around the stage, standing in small groups in the back, taking turns dancing carefree yet elegant solos frontstage. Even while standing at the back of the stage, the talented dancers maintained a powerfully cool presence. It was a pleasure to see the ballet dancers carry off modern choreography without a hint of stiffness but with all the smoothness and grace of a Tchaikovsky routine.

While the show focused on unconventional pieces the traditional numbers had their own special spark. Mai'a Davis '99 and James Carmichael '01 gave an exquisite performance of the stressful Grand pas de deux from Don Quixote, a highlight of the first act, and the medley of familiar Gershwin tunes entitled "I Got Rhythm" simply shone, endearingly nostalgic.

The Mainly Jazz Dance Company, whose dance style is broadly-detined, might have had a harder time surprising the audience. From the first piece onward, though, the troupe managed to tweak the conventions of jazz and modern dance in a way that was consistently imaginative.

In the first number, "Sweet Dreams" danced to the familiar song by The Eurythmics, the dancers entered the stage alongside vocalist Maggie Hulce '01. Dressed in the shiniest sequins this side of Vegas, Hulce, with her velvety voice and slick choreography, single handedly gave this number glitz and kitsch, and somehow she got away with it.

More than anything else, the choice of music defined the Mainly Jazz company's sense of creativity, Mainly Jazz audiences generally have come to expect the same brand of familiar dance-remixes and popular R&B hits nearly every year--credit goes to this fall's talented set of Mainly Jazz choreographers who made each number seem startlingly original.

A trio of dancers, Kimberlee Garris '01, Maiga Miranda '01 and Stefanie De Santis '00, danced to Melissa Etheridge's "Occasionally," a poignant, minimalist guitar-and-vocalist piece that Garris captured cloquently with personally expressive choreography. Jenny Weiss '99 (a co-director of Mainly Jazz) turned out equally excellent and thoroughly modern choreography for her piece. "Collision Course" which her group of dancers performed to the Talking Heads "Slippery People."

Minyard, who also choreographed for the ballet company, exhibited her flexibility as a choreographer with a beautiful rendition of the Brazilian piece "Magalenha" that was as different from "In the Jazz Club" as it was exciting, and the high-energy choreography of Fabiana Kepler '00 for Ricky Martin's "Maria" drew her dancers' into the highest enthusiasm.

The Crimson Dance Team's guest appearance in "Footnotes" intensified the variety and energy of the show and while their numbers were precise and energetic, it was hard not to imagine them on the floor of a basketball court at half-time.

All of the dancers seemed to have a good grasp of the choreography and danced with unwavering energy and confidence. Each piece they danced differed so vastly that it was impossible to identify the "typical Harvard-Radcliffe dance style", what the directors and choreographers must have impressed upon all of their dancers, and what the dancers must have innately felt, is a strong sense of stage presence and confidence.

The performers and directors made the very best of the Reiman Center for the Performing Arts. Filled with too-few bleachers and folding chairs, it is an awkward space for sold-out shows like these, but a large dance floor, constructed wings and excellent sound and light equipment made it a seemingly good space for the performers. Lighting effects were consistently excellent. Kepler and Weiss's use of light sticks in their duet "II," was especially impressive. Costumes were appropriate throughout the show.

The best part about watching "Footnotes," though, was witnessing the pleasure and enthusiasm with which the dancers attacked each number. When, at the end of the show, the teeming audience gave the troupes a deservedly thunderous round of applause, one had the sense that such recognition was superfluous, that the true reward of the show was in the dancing, and that the audience only wanted to share its enthusiasm.

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