Sunday, October 08, 2006

USC Dance Company: A Evening of Martha Graham

Okay, I've titled this post incorrectly. The official program reads: USC Dance Company in Concert: A Vision of Contemporary Dance Presents "Sketches from Chronicle", a choreographic masterpiece by legendary MARTHA GRAHAM, staged by Jennifer DePalo-Rivera/soloist with Martha Graham Dance Company". That's too long for a blog post. The evening wasn't long though. It was wonderful.In fact, I think we enjoyed this production more than any other associated with USC, including the end-of-summer program in which Mathias performed. Overall, it was excellent. I easily forgot I was watching students in the corps parts.

The State newspaper wrote a nice article that set the tone for the evening. It mentioned Martha Graham coming to Columbia years ago, her personal doubts, her high expectations, and included many personal anedotes. I was quite ready to see the performance as the curtain came up.The audience was nearly filled. Mostly there were students required to write impressions and the friends of those in the program.

The first piece was Miriam Barbosa's "Pandora's Box". We'd seen it over a year ago when it made its debut. Truthfully, it had been quite horrible. This time, however, the quality of dancers in the corps had improved. It was obvious that USC now has a real dance major. The class isn't just a bunch of overweight, wannabe dancers and guys trying to flirt with ballerina-types. No, this was a shorter version. It had a clear story-line and good delivery. We were thrilled to see Bonnie Boiter-Jolley in the role of "Hope".

We've known Bonnie since she was nine years old. I remember her as the one in class with the poorest technique and the worst arm movements. The past few years at NCSA and the Graham influence have brought her into a new, clear light. She was perfect, expressive, quite wonderful. (Her mother, however, is a totally different story. I was spared having to run into her. They left before the closing reception to which we were invited!)

After a brief intermission, Jennifer DePalo-Rivera danced "Serenata Morisca". It was grand. The dancer, the costume, the music, and the mood were fully in harmony. Energy pulsed in keeping with the quick tempo. I was thrilled to see this.

There was a very short pause before Norbert Nirewicz and Sarah Coats danced "Dual Channels". We'd seen this piece when it debutted as well. Norbert set it as a reaction to a piece of artwork in "Brimming Tides" at the State Museum. It had been the best thing in that program. Not anymore. Gone were the costumes that borrowed from the oil's palette. Gone was the intimacy with an impressionistic southern landscape. Gone was the unique connection to another world, a world of visual arts. The piece became flat and uninteresting. Sure, the dancers had much, much more room in which to move (which was quite helpful) but they were dancing just another boring set of steps about a male/female relationship. Interestingly enough, Norbert appears to now be involved with Sarah as his divorce is becoming final. Still, a little gossip couldn't save the effort.

After another brief intermission, "Sketches from 'Chronicle'" was performed in its three parts: Spectre/1914; Steps in the Street; and Prelude to Action. USC was given the rights to perform this piece on the condition that Miriam Barbosa, USC faculty member, dance the lead. She's actually too short for the part. The first section almost needed a taller dancer. It was long and became more about the costume than the dance or dancer. The final two sections were most wonderful, however. Miriam seemed to lose steam but the student dancers were stronger than ever. They carried the show, the mood, the imagery. It was all quite grand.

After the performance, Richard Durlach invited us to the reception. Everyone was rightfully in high spirits. We talked to Wendy Nance, who is now on the USC Dance board, Norbert and Sarah, and to Susan Anderson the head of the department. Having watched USC's productions for years, it can easily be said that there is an active force at work. The quality of dancing is jet-rocketing with each new idea. I can't help but to think of all those looking to pursue dance in college ought to investigate this program.

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