In dance, youth is not wasted on the young

Energy and muscularity were on display at "DANCE This," an especially strong performance of the eclectic, annual show.
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The Urvasi Dance Ensemble performs Odissi, a classical Indian dance form.

Energy and muscularity were on display at "DANCE This," an especially strong performance of the eclectic, annual show.

George Bernard Shaw is often quoted as having said, 'ꀜYouth is wasted on the young.'ꀝ Right as he might have been about much of life, it is not always so for dancing. We might marvel at the sagacity and elegance of mature dancers such as the recently retired PNB principal dancer Patricia Barker, the great flamenco artist Pilar Rioja, or past tap masters such as Honi Coles and Sandman Sims, both of whom performed into their 80s, all offering testimony that supports that Shavian bit of wit.

On the other hand, as was famously said by the stage and screen choreographer Jack Cole of his own extraordinary dancing, 'ꀜBy the time I really figured out how to do it, I was too old to do it any more.'ꀝ

Much dancing, in any culture, relies in its nature and ideal upon the energy, muscularity, suppleness and endurance that only youth can offer. Robert Farris Thompson, in his landmark book African Art in Motion, uses the term 'ꀜephebism'ꀝ for the beauty that 'ꀜblazes out of the bodies which are most alive and young.'ꀝ

However one wishes to define it, the majesty and exuberance that is youthful dancing was on display in many manifestations during a matinee performance of this year'ꀙs 'ꀜDANCE This,'ꀝ at the Paramount Theatre this past Friday.

An annual event now in its 12th year, 'ꀜDANCE This,'ꀝ presented by Seattle Theater Group, operators of the Paramount, showcases the talents of our area'ꀙs young dancers in two different ways: Aspirants audition for guest choreographers who create new works or adapt already existing ones, and pre-existing local dance troupes composed of youthful performers make appearances on the bill. This combination always makes for an intriguing and eclectic blend of dance that crosses many cultural lines.

I'ꀙve been to a few of these performances in previous years, and they are always lively affairs, but 2010 was something special. The level of the choreography, and of the dancing, was of unusual excellence, with some standout performances.

Of particular note was the stunning Alex Jackson, all long arms and legs in Amy O'ꀙNeal'ꀙs 'ꀜtiny+rage=love,'ꀝ a dance originally created for herself and performed on a 4-by-4-foot platform. Jackson has been performing in 'ꀜDANCE This'ꀝ concerts since he was 12, and he was turning 21 on the Sunday of the concert weekend.

A fine melding of choreography and ensemble work was Donald Byrd'ꀙs restaging of his 'ꀜBhangra Fever,'ꀝ created originally in 2004 for Spectrum Dance Theater, which he directs, and ably performed here by an ensemble of 15 that featured auditioned dancers as well as young apprentices from Byrd'ꀙs own company.

Two fine troupes representing South Asian performance were also thrilling to watch. The all-female Urvasi Dance Ensemble, vibrant in blue and gold costumes, performed Odissi, a classical Indian dance form. They made beautiful groupings around the stage, in a work whose theme was a child'ꀙs dream of temple figures come to life.

Complementing Urvasi was the all-male Apna Bhangra Crew, highly energized, also brightly costumed, and greatly entertaining. They perform bhangra, which began in the Punjab region as a rural agricultural dance, but which has emerged in recent years as a contemporary popularized form for young Indians, a sort of response to hip-hop, danced at competitions, festivals, and various social occasions.

Two new works created especially for local dancers also deserve mention. Anika Martynowych, an 18-year-old emerging choreographer, presented an accomplished group piece that she developed in Seattle Theater Group'ꀙs Young Choreographer'ꀙs Lab. And guest artists Napoleon and Tabitha D'ꀙUmo, of Los Angeles, fashioned a hip-hop extravaganza on a monster/zombie theme for a large ensemble of bravura, non-stop performers.

As always, 'ꀜDANCE This'ꀝ closed with all the performers on-stage dancing little bits of each other's works and then working together as an ensemble. Many of the several hundred enthusiastic young people in the audience took this as a cue to do some dancing of their own, empowered by a number of the performers who came off stage and paraded around the auditorium.

'ꀜDANCE This'ꀝ is a concert appearance for its young performers, but also much more. For those who have auditioned it is the experience of rehearsing and being directed by professionals, and meeting and working with other talented young artists. For everyone concerned it is an opportunity to perform in one of the finest theaters for dance in the Pacific Northwest. The program was developed and is overseen by the Education and Community Programs of Seattle Theater Group, with particular credit going to Vicky Lee, the program'ꀙs long-time director.


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