Art Moves Dance Project’s performance of “Back to Brasil” on Thursday evening (to be repeated at Oxford Hills High School in South Paris on Friday) called two points into focus.

First, the Portland artistic scene could benefit from more variety in local dance performance offerings. Art Moves has the potential to become a very strong jazz company and welcome addition, thanks to artistic director Debi Irons’ background of eclectic dance training, performance and teaching (including at Bates College) and her strong, well trained dancers.

Second, we all really miss Daielma Santos, who departed Portland Ballet a few years ago.

The luminous Santos, who is also Fred Garbo’s longtime Inflatable Theater partner, now lives in North Carolina but included this guest appearance with Art Moves in this month’s visit to Maine.

Santos radiates warmth in all of her work, from classical ballet to humorous mime, and a joy in dancing that can make the entire audience feel like her beloved dance partner.

Here, in Latin-inspired jazz, her Brazilian background may have provided extra fluency. Her torso articulation was wonderfully fluid and sensual, and beautifully set off by her fast-moving feet.

In periodic duets, Santos and Irons showed interestingly complementary styles. At one point, they performed a challenge dance to light and bright drumming alternating with a stronger, fuller percussion — Santos sparkling to the light drum, and Irons pounding to the stronger sound.

Overall, the performance had the ambiance of a dance party, with varying groups dancing to a 90-minute medley of Latin music. It was hard to find the boundaries between the pieces announced in the program, but taken as a whole the dancing was pleasing, with elements varying from lyrical to tribal.

The choreography — by Irons in collaboration with the dancers — was an impressively smooth fusion of jazz with Latin dance. The underlying technique, and much of the specific movement, reflected classical jazz, based on hip, shoulder and rib isolations. Latin dance steps and flavor were integrated throughout, especially in Santos’ solos.

Just watching Irons was a lesson in classical jazz technique, especially in her slow-motion sequences. In bends, she seemed to find extra vertebrae, progressing from one to another in incredibly smooth transitions. Her shoulder rolls and isolations were similarly impressive and expressive. In addition to Irons and Santos, dancers included Chloe Bergman-Ray, Sasha Campbell, Emily Delamater, Erin Hamlin, Kim Hamlin and Karianna Merrill, performing in an array of multicolored costumes, designed by Kim Hamlin.

 

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer, teacher, musician and dancer who lives in Saco.