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Present Music: Danceworks Performance Company

Johann Strauss, Jr.: Waltzes
Joseph Schwantner: Velocities
Conlon Nancarrow: Tango
Astor Piazzolla: Michelangelo 70 (1970)
Astor Piazzolla: Escualo (1980)
Astor Piazzolla: Oblivion (1984)
Frankie Yankovic: Home-Grown Polka
Sarah Wilbur: Plonk
Michael Nyman: And Do They Do (1986)

Present Music Ensemble
Danceworks Performance Company
Terry Smirl, percussion
Phillip Bush, piano


The chamber-music group Present Music and Danceworks Performance Company collaborated in a program at Mills Hall that was somewhat disorganized, occasionally quite interesting, and overall perhaps a little less than met the eye.

Opening with a fairly extended warmup to Strauss waltzes, the music played with great gusto, the nine women dancers stretched and stretched, improvised a little, stretched, improvised and stretched some more. Very flexible people, but not really doing much beyond getting ready to do things, albeit in a sometimes lyrical fashion.

Next came a piece for solo marimba, Joseph Schwantner's Velocities (1990), a very demanding long work featuring mostly one velocity -- fast but not real fast -- expertly played by Terry Smirl. This led to a suite of tangos, one a very tongue-in-cheek parody for solo piano by Conlon Nancarrow, brilliantly played by Philip Bush, who seemed to have a separate brain for each hand, such were the rhythmic demands of the piece. High art in tango form means Astor Piazzolla, three of whose works -- Michelangelo 70 (1977), Escualo (1980) and Oblivion (1984) provided wonderful vehicles for both musicians and dancers, indeed providing the most finished, beautifully phrased performances of the whole program.

The second half opened with Home-Grown Polka, music by Frankie Yankovic, choreography by Megan McCusker. Spoofing the dance endurance contests of the Depression era, the work was by turns energetic and langorously exhausted, with lots of high-jinks thrown in. But, well, you can only go so far with polkas before it starts to look like television.

The final work, Plonk, choreographed by Sarah Wilbur to music by Michael Nyman -- And Do They Do (1986), wonderfully suited to dance -- was a highly developed long piece for eight dancers, affording solos and pas de deux as well as ensemble movement. Emotionally wide ranging and stylistically a mixture of ballet, modern, and jazz rhetoric, the only real problem was duration. Hard as it may be, when the material has been used up expressively, that's the time to stop. It's a good work that would be far better at half its present length, I think.

Mills is not really a dance venue, and must have been very hard on the dancers' feet. But with reservations noted, the concert was good and warmly received by a moderate-sized audience.

Isthmus, January, 1999
Copyright 1999 Jess Anderson

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