Last Saturday I sat down in an auditorium here in town to watch my daughter dance in her last recital of the season. The show was called “Back on Broadway” and all the music for the dance numbers (except the solo dances) was drawn from Broadway musicals. There are four dance companies in the studio where my daughter dances and each did several numbers over the course of the three-act show. There were tap dances, jazz dances, impressionistic lyrical dances, ballet influenced dances, and each fit nicely with music choices.
One thing you realize when you watch a long dance showcase (or a Broadway musical for that matter) is how challenging it is to be a creative choreographer. It’s difficult not to fall into designing multiple variations of the same steps, movements, and accents over the course of numerous dances, but that was largely avoided in this show. A couple of times during the numbers in which more than one company was involved, the number of dancers on stage risked becoming a detriment to the clarity of the choreography, but most of the time that challenge was managed smoothly.
The challenge of dance is to hit a perfect blend of choreography, music, and movement that allows an emotion to be conveyed. For this to happen, however, the music has to be good, the choreography has to be good, and most of all it has to be danced gracefully or at least effectively. Graceful movement in dance is the equivalent of lyrical playing of an instrument, or, in painting, the surety of brush stroke and line. Moving gracefully is like speaking eloquently: it’s something not often done these days and you don’t realize what it entails until you experience it. And while not everyone can do it, many of these dancers could. The costumes, which are always part of the visual impact of dance, were very nicely done and the lighting was simply the best I’ve seen in any production of this sort in town. In two of the dances, the studio’s two main instructors joined in to good effect. Most of the dancers did a good job with the often-tricky task of holding the final pose until the lights went completely black. Overall, a recital like this is one of the best ways to see what really makes dancing an art form, and what separates it from other actions of motion like gymnastics and cheerleading and whatnot—things that are often associated with or even equated to dance.
One happy side effect of this particular show was to be reminded that the Broadway musical is one of the most distinctive art forms to emerge in America, probably second only to jazz. One can trace a lineage of influences all the way back from the musicals of today (Hamilton, The Book of Mormon), to those of the “Golden Age” of Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 50’s (Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, The Music Man,The King and I, South Pacific, West Side Story, and on and on), back from there to the “light opera” of Gilbert and Sullivan, and then finally find it rooted in the full scale productions of what we usually think of as opera. Like classic opera, Broadway musicals are a complex amalgam of music, lyrics, dance, scenery, story—most of the art forms together in one package. All the pieces have to fit together to have a hit. A fair amount of the music one heard at this recital came from musicals whose position is secure in the cultural landscape and when one of those came along in the program, it was like a wave of energy swept the auditorium. “America,” from West Side Story, was a high point of the show.
So bravo to the Expressions Dance Company, which is not only doing an exemplary job of teaching dance, but also exposing new generations of young people to traditions of art that are well worth knowing, experiencing, and most of all, participating in.