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Cornish Dance Theatre

The Majors' Pavane

by Dean Speer

April 27, 2012 -- Broadway Performing Hall, Seattle, WA

College dance departments typically provide performance opportunities for their majors and Cornish Dance Theatre, an outgrowth of the original Cornish Ballet begun by Karen Irvin, is the venue for the Cornish College of the Arts Dance Department which gave its semi-annual concert at the Broadway Performing Hall, 27-28 April, with choreography by a sampling of its faculty and guests curated by Producer/Artistic Director Deborah Wolf.

Opening the program was Iyun Ashani Harrison’s “Subway Stories: Dances On the “A” – a reference to New York’s iconic subway "the A train." Two men, Samuel Opsal and Sam Picart engaged in a fusion hip-hop/breakdance ballet to impress four women, Sarah Butler, Becky Kalnasy, Camrym Kelly, and Babette McGeady, who gently flirted right back. The piece reminded me of a take-off on Jerome Robbins’ “On The Town” where three on-leave sailors try their [unsuccessful] best to pick up a couple of women at a local bar in early 1940s New York. Change costumes, change music, and change the choreography but the basic idea remains. Not knowing the women – and there were no headshots of the dancers to match to the names, I can only say that one of them – blondish hair [I think], bare legs with sort of a brownish top and hot pants – had really good technique and extension, and an innate sense of line that told me she could easily fit into a ballet company somewhere. The others were good to but not quite at her same level. The women were en pointe. A little on the longish side, choreographically it started well with a nice premise but didn’t really develop and go too much of anywhere, being tempted to say it left the platform but didn’t arrive at its destination. It did, however, in rounds of sequential dancing, provide short dances, usually in twos, for its cast.

Rhonda Cinotto’s “Divided” had the dancers in orange tops and skirts, which were about half-way through, for no inexplicable reason, removed off stage with the dances returning in stages to the stage in the gray tights they already had on underneath.

Wolf’s “Slipstream” began and ended with dancers on the floor – strong shapes of being prone with one arm at a right-degree angle and the head turned aside.

“Unfold” by Cyrus Khambatta used the spoken word as well as gesture and shared-weight partnering. One of my former students, Elise Landles, was given the verbal motif of insisting “But it does matter!” while others asked rhetorical and somewhat circular-argument questions.

Not able to afford the performing rights to Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” José Limón’s 1967 “Psalm” was originally done in silence and this [excerpt] is a re-working by Limón company member, Carla Maxwell, in 2002 set to a score by Jon Magnussen commissioned especially for the dance. Limón’s idea for his piece is based upon the Jewish concept of the “Just Men” who bear all of the sorrows of the world. The program quotes Limón as explaining, “The choreographic treatment as I envision it would be an evocation of the heroic power of the human spirit, triumphant over death itself. The objective is to achieve dramatic power through abstract choreographic visions.”

Each of the cast looked good as did “The Just Man,” Sam Picart.

Built in what I consider a classic modern dance way, “Psalm” is a very strong work and one that feels right in every way – statement of motifs/ideas, the development of them, and a strong conclusion. My only reservation was, ironically, the commissioned score which, to me, did not have exactly the right feel of period or era to it somehow.

That said, it gave the students...and their audience...first-hand experience and knowledge of one of American modern dance’s legends, providing exactly the kind of opportunity and artistic raison d’etre and depth a college dance department should.

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