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“Dance in the USA” – Pacific Ballet Dance Theater – In Review

September 12, 2012

The Pacific Ballet Dance Theater’s ambitious production, “Dance in the USA,” showcased the innumerable talent of their many dancers and director.  Spanning from the turn of the 20th century through to the 1980s, a whopping 31 pieces touched on styles as diverse as the cake walk, go-go and Michael Jackson with a hefty dose of ballet, jazz, swing and tap along the way.  Large screens on each side of the stage showed images from the decade in which each piece takes place, providing added context to the dance and times in which the music was from. Based on the roaring applause from the audience throughout the evening, I would say the show was a massive success.  All in all, a dazzling evening of dance with something for everyone and clearly an audience hit!

Starting with a take on Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo, the first act of the show progressed up until the 1940s.  As a fan of the early black and white musicals and someone with period and swing dance training, I particularly enjoyed the early part of the evening and the many homages to the dances and styles of that era.  Among the many highlights were:

  • “Cakewalk Parade” – A fun interpretation of the early 20th century dance.
  • “The Roaring 20’s” – An upbeat, zany large cast number with lots of capers and tons of energy.
  • “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” – The piece featured the amazing tapper Chris Trousdale and was a clear crowd-pleaser.
  • “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” – A beautiful contemporary solo by Allan McCormick brought this piece to life.
  • “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” – A touching and strikingly danced tribute to legends Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
  • “Milkman Keep Those Bottle Quiet” – A witty and delectable piece with a stunning solo by Carrie Lee Riggins.
  • “Sing, Sing, Sing with a Swing” – A high energy number by the Hollywood Hotshots, who injected their swing talents into the show with a grand effect.

The second act turned the clock forward, bringing the audience from the 1950s into the 80s with a perfect balance of humor, energy and artistry. Among the standout performances were:

  • “Beatniks” – The piece channeled the beatnik era perfectly.
  • “Come Fly with Me” – Much like the era of musicals, balanced well with live singing and beautiful lifts.
  • “60s Go-Go” – A purely fun piece that had the audience clapping and the dancer’s smiling.
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – A heartfelt number that truly played to the dancers’ strengths and was very moving.
  • “America the Beautiful” – Another incredible solo, this time by Allan McCormick.
  • “Proud Mary” – Tonya Vivian captured the essence of Tina Turner on stage.
  • “Love Shack” – An entertaining and enjoyable number that the dancers clearly enjoyed performing.
  • “Beat It” – A twist on Michael Jackson with hip hop and tap groups duking it out.
  • “Man in the Mirror” – Incredible solo performance by Alexander Frost.

I found the solo and duet pieces to be the most moving of the evening in their many forms and to an incredible range of music.  The larger-casted numbers brought with them a higher energy that quickly engaged the audience and the ear-splitting grins of the dancers plainly spoke to the fun they were having on stage.   It was clear when the choreography focused on ballet in particular, but also jazz and tap, that the dancers were fully in their element and their performances took on a heightened quality of excellence.  The dances were highly accessible to the audience and it was clear how much they enjoyed the performances throughout the show.

I personally was impressed with the breadth of the choreography and the steps taken the represent the various periods.  It is hard to do true justice to the incredible amount of dance and the sheer scope of the performance.  Although I have noted some of the many highlights for me personally, it is difficult to speak to every piece in such a limited article. I will, however, say this in summary; the dancers at Pacific Ballet Dance Theater provided a feast for the eyes and truly showcased the immensity of their talent to bring to life such a broad range of choreography.  I give kudos and my respect to Natasha Middleton, founder and artist director, for the immensity of her vision to tackle so much in such a brief show.  If you missed this performance, get yourself to their next show with haste because they are not to be missed.

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