Ballroom dance aficionados and devoted fans of Dancing with the Stars will find much to love in Beyond Ballroom Dance Company’s latest concert. All the dances are here, all the flourishes—head-snapping waltzes, swivel-hipped Latin dances, dramatic hands, sudden but dreamy lifts—all performed by some of the best local ballroom dancers. But those unfamiliar with ballroom might not find this concert the most convincing introduction—at least in the first half of the performance.
Beyond Mariusz Olszewski’s pyrotechnic turns, the finer points of ballroom technique get lost on a novice. Close and intricate partnering, which is so difficult, can slip by unnoticed, while ballroom’s oddities catch the eye: super-dramatic, verging-on-abusive relations between partners; exaggerated male and female roles, the women vixens or princesses, the men gigolos or courtiers; the oiled smoothness of each swiveling, hyper-extended step; occasional bursts of day-old humor. It doesn’t help that the two longer pieces in the first half (a short dance skit for pregnant Julie Jacobson is the third) both ignore their medium, treating ballroom as if it were a clear glass, not a particular form with a particular history. Scott Anderson’s “Time of the Season,” set to a collage of seventies protest music, opens with a seemingly non-ironic waltz set to Edwin Starr’s forceful “War” (“what is it good for”). The dancers even line up with smiling salutes at one point. Gary Pierce’s “Lilac Wine” suite is much surer, but it still utilizes ballroom clichés without much awareness. Both pieces also look under-rehearsed, with bobbles and awkward partnering marring the smooth surface.
Luckily, Jean Marc Genereaux (of So You Think You Can Dance) comes to the rescue in the second half with “Puppetmaster.” Genereaux takes a simple scenario of character dolls and the woman who thinks she’s manipulating them, and breathes life into it. The costumes—simply sleek in the first half—also come to life, with a sparkly white bolero jacket for one dancer-doll, an over-feathered rock tutu in black for another, an innocent white debutante dress, and a see-through shirt worn with an eye-mask. Like any good ballet choreographer, Genereaux’s aware of his form, and he choreographs to its id. The deb doll’s sweet floating waltz is ballroom’s dream of love, while the rock doll’s acrobatic spin with the masked bandit is ballroom’s equally enthralling nightmare. Genereaux sets broken-doll awkwardness against smooth partnering and breaks up the machismo of the male dancers, all without leaving the ballroom medium. This is one path to follow in transferring competitive ballroom to the concert stage: choreography that works with, not simply glides over, the form itself.
Beyond the concert itself, part of the fun of attending this concert is seeing the local ballroom crowd in all their finery—and seeing them take their impromptu turn on the stage at intermission. (If you go, put on your dancing shoes and brush up on your foxtrot.) Watching amateur couples, skilled but natural, made me think that concert ballroom has a lot of territory left to explore if it can shed its competitive clichés—another possible choreographic path. Let’s hope Beyond Ballroom will explore both ways in future.
Beyond Ballroom Dance continues at the Southern Theater through March 16.