January 16, 2012

Review: Maine State Ballet shows off versatility

By JENNIFER BREWER

Maine State Ballet's "Tap, Tap, Jazz" was over in a flash Saturday, thanks to both its brevity (about an hour) and the high energy of the dancers and choreography.

DANCE REVIEW

'TAP, TAP, JAZZ,' Maine State Ballet

WHERE: Maine State Ballet Theater, Falmouth

DATE REVIEWED: Jan. 14; additional performances at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $15

Fifteen pieces were presented, in a program that balanced jazz and tap, larger and smaller groups and student and professional dancers.

Turns by the company's soloists and principals showcased the versatility of these dancers, who are best known to the audience for their performance in classical ballet.

Janet and Glenn Davis gave perhaps the show's most striking performance, in "Steam Heat" from the musical "The Pajama Game" (Adler and Ross) with Nathaniel Dombek and Michael Holden. Choreographed by Janet Davis, this slick and sophisticated jazz number especially highlighted her own highly-nuanced musicality and style, but also the talents of all three men, each of whom showed strength, fluency and personality.

Dombek got several other chances to strut his stuff, including "Maybe My Baby Loves Me," choreographed by Glenn Davis to music from "Grand Hotel" (Wright and Forrest) and featuring Elizabeth Dragoni. His dancing here was strong and elastic, with charisma and attention to physical details like precise shoulder positions. Perhaps dancing alongside Davis has inspired Dombek, whose emerging style may reflect Davis' own superb showmanship.

Dragoni was superb in "Maybe" and in "Look What Happened to Mabel" from "Mack & Mabel" (Jerry Herman, sung by Bernadette Peters). In "Mabel," Dragoni was the image of a stage flapper, immersed in the charming chorus-girl style as choreographed by Glenn Davis. In "Maybe," she showed similar acting skill, including effective physical illustration of portions of dialogue in the music.

Jonathan Miele returned to the stage before the smashing tap finale to present the Peggy Etter Award to Holden, explaining that the longtime, newly-retired tap teacher had always valued dedication as much as skill, and that Holden exhibits both in great measure.

Sara Alpert and Rhiannon Pelletier did a great job with "I Can't Do It Alone," choreographed to the "sister act" number from the musical "Chicago" (Adler and Ross) and performed for the onstage audience of Holden and Glenn Davis, who joined them for a couple of nice lifts.

The show also featured three snazzy jazz pieces on pointe, and several group tap numbers that increased in quality as the program progressed. "Polar Express," choreographed by Glenn Davis to music from the film soundtrack (Ballard and Silvestri), had story and personality with good sound and pace.

"Too Darn Hot," to the famous Cole Porter song from "Kiss Me, Kate," was choreographed by Jonathan Miele with hard-hitting tap and excellent use of space for both individuals and formations. Holden had a brief solo with pullbacks, one of the more difficult steps for a tapper.

In "Dig A Little Deeper" (Randy Newman), the tap ensemble choreography by Glenn Davis was the most challenging of the evening, with fast transitions and fabulous formations.

"Tap, Tap, Jazz" is great fun for the audience, although it would be even more fun if it lasted a little longer. It would also be nice to see Maine State Ballet elevating this show from a series of unconnected numbers to a more cohesive, thematic whole. With the obvious acting talent and showmanship of these dancers, this would seem to be well within reach.

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

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