Variety enlivens dance festival

By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / November 7, 2009

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Massachusetts Dance Festival aims to prove there’s not only strength in numbers, there’s vitality and a lot of diversity in our state’s dance community.

Last night’s inaugural concert showcased nine very different dance companies in a well-produced, smoothly paced production, with local television newswoman Susan Wornick providing the evening’s introduction.

The most compelling works on the program were two large ensemble pieces, the first by the event’s producers, BoSoma Dance Company. “Push,’’ choreographed by BoSoma co-artistic directors Katherine Hooper and Irada Djelassi, was propelled by the rhythmic drive of Japanese drum troupe Kodo, and the piece for nine women was vigorously athletic and artistically sculptural, from slow-motion runs to angular leaps that twisted midair.

The dancers looked as if they were ready to explode at a moment’s notice, moving with coiled intensity and kinetic pop through eye-catching patterns. Groupings came together and split apart in quick shifts through space.

Collage Dance Ensemble has made its mark with superb folk dances from around the world, so the opening large group tango of its work “Moments’’ was a stretch, and it showed. The dancers looked constrained, out of their element. Then the women traded their stilettos for character shoes, and we got what we came for: robust, full-bodied Balkan-inflected folk dance with brilliant footwork, high hitch kicks, stylish turns and swivels, and syncopated slaps, claps, and stomps.

The six dancers of Triveni Dance Ensemble, including artistic director Neena Gulati, offered a charming piece inspired by the temple dances of India. Despite some minor discrepancies, the dancers displayed flair, commitment, and fabulous attention to detail, from their raised eyebrows to the tips of their expressive fingers. Shoulders tilted, and their deeply arched postures canted and twisted above complex rhythmic sequences in the feet.

Though the flamenco and belly dance troupes had vivid costumes, the choreography and performance caliber offered by both Flamenco Dance Project and Snake Dance Theater were amateurish and stylistically pallid.

Sokolow Now! danced a solid reconstruction of “Session for Seven’’ by dance pioneer Anna Sokolow, and Chaos Theory Dance’s Billbob Brown and Rebecca Nordstrom presented a sometimes clever but mostly rambling and silly piece about time. Veteran tappers Josh Hilberman and Thelma Goldberg offered an elegant routine that was thoroughly capable and professional but curiously restrained, uncharacteristically lacking imagination and personality.

Rainbow Tribe opened the evening with the jazzy, spirited “Lego Land,’’ choreographed by Melissa Webster. The young dancers’ energy and face-front sass helped set the evening’s feel-good tone.

MASSACHUSETTS DANCE FESTIVAL At: Boston University Dance Theatre, last night (repeats tonight)

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