Dance Month @ The Kaplan (Houston)

January 15, 2000

Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago
Photo by Mike Canale

Dance Month at the Kaplan
20th Anniversary

Kaplan Jewish Community Center
Houston, Texas

January 15-February 13, 2000

Reviewed by Marene Gustin

Programming an entire month of dance is always hit and miss, but in Texas-where everything is bigger and Dance Month at the Kaplan is actually five weeks long-it can be Herculean. Luckily for the Jewish Community Center, organizers had two decades of experience to draw upon and, in fact, drew upon many performers from the last twenty years.

The celebration, named for the Kaplan Theatre where the concert takes place, began with two galas (January 15 and 16), presumably one for each decade. Participants were Texas-based alumni ranging from Joan Karff’s New Dance Group and Discovery Dance Group (both on the original 1981 bill) to Houston’slatest, Fly Dance Company, an all-boy hip-hop group, and transplanted-New Yorker Jane Weiner, whose artistic talents and ten years with Doug Elkins Dance Company make her a reigning talent on the local contemporary scene.

Also of note was Sean Kelly, recently promoted to ballet master at Houston Ballet, dancing a duet with Houston Ballet principal Barbara Bears, and Priscilla Nathan Murphy, who ratcheted up the emotional level with a dance-drama titled Chronicles 1 that she performed with Penny Tschirhart. A moving theater piece to text by Patsy Ross, Chronicles 1 stages angst and acceptance over a dying mother with post-modern movement and furniture props.

At the other end of the spectrum was Jitter Hoppin’ by swingsters Alex and Victoria Arizpe, who combined street jazz and neo-swing for a crowd-pleasing memory trip of zoot suits and big band fun.

Full-length evenings at the Kaplan were given over to two established companies from disparate disciplines. Gus Giordano and his daughter Nan Giordano brought Jazz Dance Chicago back to Dance Month for two performances January 22 and 23. The company first performed there in 1984 and was there last in 1990. The works were an interesting contrast to the previous weeks’, more reminiscent of Broadway and musical theater than avant-garde concert pieces: the rollicking TV-inspired Hi Jinks with pastel-beehive-Marge-Simpson girls and plastic-headed Ken-doll men and the exotic Le Firebird de Jazz. The latter featured sensuous velvet-clothed birds and a princely, long-legged Matt Clemons in a modern take on Michel Fokine’s original. Kimberly Fletcher undulated as the scarlet Firebird, showing raw sex appeal and limber extensions. The work, which premiered in 1998, was only surpassed by the 1999 Surrender, a tender and joyous look at giving over to love where Clemons again shone in a duet with Cassady Chiarelli to I’ll Be Seeing You. Fletcher and Sarah Brazo are also of interest in a tails-and-tie jazz duet Sing, Sing, Sing.

Los Angeles-based Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble, which infuses traditional Israeli folk dance with contemporary themes, performed February 5 and 6 to full houses. Their showcase had enough energy and toothy-smiles to cause envy in a Broadway chorus. The Spirit of Israel is a folkloric tale, while the Chassidic-Russian Suite is a rousing depiction of eightheenth-century Russian Jews welcoming the Shabbat. It incorporates traditional rhythmic dance with a showy number where drunken Russians perform while balancing half-empty liquor bottles atop their fur hats. The Negev Cowboy was meant to be a tribute to Texas, but it was more “Five Brides for Five Brothers” than Urban Cowboy-influenced. Still, it shows the imaginative styling of artistic director and choreographer Eytan Avisar and the versatility of this highly energetic ensemble.

The festival included a ballroom evening for more than two-hundred fifty participants, which showcased award-winning Sherri Richey and Dr. Carlos Domino, and Masha Krasko and Tom Cassidy; a master class by Mark Morris’s dancers; and Tap Jammin,’ featuring masters Lane Alexander and Ira Bernstein.