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Contemporary Styles, Cultural Dances, and High Energy Performers Make for a Winning Combination at DANCE This

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Seattle Theater Group’s 13th annual DANCE This, an artist development program linking local teens and professional choreographers, showcased an exuberant mix of dance styles this Friday, July 9, 2011 at the Moore Theater. The young performers, aided by the boisterously cheering audience, brought a great sense of the joy of dance in all its forms to the stage.

In the definitive highlight of the evening, an abridged version of West Side Story featured the magnificent choreography of Jerome Robbins, reproduced by Joey McKneely. The performers truly connected with their characters, making palpable the animosity between the warring Sharks and Jets. Ranging from the fiery mambo at the gym, to the enchanted first dance between love-struck Tony and Maria, to the murderous knife battle between the opposing gang leaders, the young dancers showed considerable dramatic breadth and the ability to let the choreography tell the story through dynamic movement alone. They were skillfully accompanied by the Synergia Northwest Orchestra which tackled West Side Story’s challenging score with gusto.
The opening Afro-Brazilian work and the traditional Tahitian welcoming dance, both featuring live drummers, elicited many cheers from the audience and brought a taste of different cultures to the stage. In the Afro-Brazilian piece, Dark of the Night, Dawn of the Day, choreographer Dora Oliveira displayed a pantheon of African gods and blended traditional samba with Brazil’s signature acrobatic fighting dance, capoeira. Bursting with energy, the dancers pumped their arms and shimmied their hips with infectious exhilaration. In the Tahitian Te Fare O Tamatoa, swaying grass skirts accentuated relentlessly quaking pelvises, contrasting with the dancers’ perfectly calm upper bodies. The men of the piece showed incredible stamina, performing almost the entire dance in a squat position with shuffling feet and knees continually pumping in and out.
Shorecrest High School Dance Team also presented their award winning hip hop piece. A tightly knit routine with continually shifting formations and interwoven break dance moves, this was another extremely high energy performance.
With a very different kind of hip hop, Ground Zero took the audience on a journey through the seasons and eras of New York. Performed by local dance crew Cruz Control and choreographed by Daniel Cruz and John Roque, the piece began in a slinky, rat-pack era club; the dancers grooved and snapped their fingers to a simmering snare drum beat. Initially laced with touches of jazz, the choreography integrated pops, locks, and isolations as the scene shifted to a modern-day winter evening complete with gently falling snow. Choreographically complex with a well-blended mix of music from Frank Sinatra to Kid Cudi, Cruz Control gave a highly polished and entertaining performance.
Polka, choreographed by Mark Morris and restaged by Joe Bowie, helped balance the largely contemporary show with a dose of classic modern. Accompanied by Mitchell Drury on violin and Adrienne Varner on piano, the sprightly polka music opposed the rather tribal feeling of the piece. Jagged arm movements dissolved into the spastic flinging of hands, yet order was maintained by the almost mathematical precision in which the dancers repeated the patterns. Highly intricate and rhythmical, the cast of all female dancers did a commendable job learning this challenging choreography in a short amount of time.
Also notable were Northwest Tap Connection’s La’Twon Allen in a self-choreographed solo titled It’s a Man’s World, and Sabina Smith-Moreland’s Headphones. A skilled tapper, Allen alternated between being in complete control of his feet and seeming to let them dance of their own accord. Smith-Moreland, who participated in STG’s Young Choreographer Lab, showed great potential with a piece loosely based on George Orwell’s 1984. Using interesting spatial groupings and some inventive movements, Headphones told the story of a couple trying to connect in a world overshadowed by Big Brother, represented by two sentries with dark sunglasses and headphones. In the end, Big Brother wins out, forcing the four other dancers into a bleak submission.
An all-out dance party erupted on stage in the finale as the whole cast, joined by the choreographers, performed a mash-up of choreography from each of the evening’s works to Lady Gaga’s anthem “Born This Way.” With performers moving into the aisles to dance, the audience couldn’t help but clap their hands and groove in their seats. A true celebration of dance, DANCE This brought together youth from diverse communities and allowed them to shine in a high-spirited and supportive environment.