Friday, January 30, 2009

Review: Triple Focus at the JCC

Chris Gamez Mario Jaramillo of Urgeworks

Dancing vs. ideas. As part of the Jewish Community Center's Dance Month Triple Focus' threesome, Revolve Dance Company, Uptown Dance Company, and Urgeworks, all grappled with this delicate balance with varying degrees of success.

Colors, choreographed by Revolve's Amy Cain and Dawn Dippel, showed the most connection between moving bodies and moving minds. The troupe, looking tighter than ever, danced with such effortless grace, it's almost impossible not to get lost in the dancing. Cain and Dippel capture a gentle in-between world where structured dance steps merge with natural human gestures. Dancers scoot across the stage and then turn on the breaks in a sudden stop. Walks, runs, and turns morph into nuanced choreography that subtly suggests a social gathering of friends coming together to listen and respond to melancholic tunes by Amos Lee and Rachael Yamagata. They sweep, saunter, and swagger, reminding us that they are still people. Matt Dippel's silky style proved especially potent in his duet with his sister. Apprentice and newbie Wesley Cordova has got the mellow Revolve style down. Swan Song, also by Dippel and Cain, offered more in the way of dreamy dancing but less in the way of strong choreographic ideas. The piece, still in the sketch stage, lacked focus. As good as Cain and Dippel are at mining movement from catchy tunes, I wish they would push themselves out of the limited dancing to favorite songs mode.

The relatively new kid on the dance block, Uptown Dance Company, had some trouble getting started. Although former Houston Ballet principal Andrew Murphy elegantly danced Beth Gulledge-Brown's Awa Y-Okeyi, the end result felt overly melodramatic and failed to make an emotional connection. Murphy was again underutilized in Gulledge-Brown's duet Intrigue. Ray Dones' Now it's Gone showed off some competent dancing, but never left the jazz dance class zone.

Urgeworks, in a rare concert dance offering, offered nothing short of spectacular dancing. In Mechanics, the movement was the message as Le'Andre Douglas, Chris Gamez, Mario Jaramillo, and Chris Thomas transform themselves into those mechanical mannequins you see at the amusement park. Movement stops abruptly, then wobbles like a rusty machine. It's just enough of an idea to carry the piece. Good vs. Evil was more a demonstration of the troupe's diverse dance styles then a treatise on ethics. Jaramillio, all in white, charmed the crowd with his smoother than butter gestations while Gamez thrilled with his acrobatics. Thomas was all about his isolations with his chest thumping. Urgeworks' offerings reminded me that hip hop at its best is a rigorous investigation of the endless possibilities inherent in the shape and quality of human movement. There's a marvelous attention to detail in their work. That said, the structure of both these dances could use some tidying up and a good push beyond creating super inventive moves. I am left with a question: Do we really need ideas when the dancing is this good?

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.