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March 30, 1999

Pieces of Gold: The Parapluie Dance Company

A Review by Pat and Ernie Pinson

As newcomers to a dance company a reviewer always wants to know what he/she is dealing with. So this title sent us scuttling for answers. First the easy part. "Pieces of Gold" clearly refers to the total inclusion of excellent dancers (gold) for this March 20, Saturday evening performance at the Saenger. Also, it surely must refer to the six different sections of the program and the variety of dances (ballet, Celtic, modern, etc.). Now for that intriguing word "parapluie." Thanks to the program (for it’s not found even in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary) parapluie is identified as a French word for "umbrella." And what a very clever name for a company which, since its inception in 1994, has been an umbrella organization for dance studios and schools of the region. So it represents the best amateurs coming up through eighteen schools and dance studios from Pensacola to Pascagoula (eleven represented tonight).

Ballet opened both halves of the program. Rhapsody in Blue, a ballet in blue, hovered between lyrical and flippant with a little Egyptian influence so prevalent in the 20's when Gershwin composed the music. Tia Brown and Tiffany Brown took the lead with calm assured elegance. In Search of Angels, a parallel work that began the second half, had a group of eight dressed in white dancing to the words "I'm an angel so perfect." The fogging device and the costumes fit well with the mystery and the solo dance to the music of Enya's Angeles in the middle was so expressive it seemed to make abstract sound visible.

A delightful change came with the middle, shorter dance in each half. In the first was the Irish Step dance Celtic Heartbeat -- key to the popular Celtic rage so apparent since the Riverdance tours. This dance seems to pair opposites --a remarkably static upper body with elegant and vigorous footwork. The lead dancer, we assume Tara Mullan, was especially good in the traditional soft shoes and in the taps, with high kicks, flings, and swirls of eight dancers accompanying the Irish rhythms.

The second half middle dance, Sunflower Slow Drag, was an updated pas de deux and introduced Craig Garmendia, the only male ballet dancer of the evening, to pair with Becky Williams. This pantomimic play of flirting between the sexes was set in an ice cream parlor. The two dancing together competitively with the lifts and postures resulted in a clear tie from where we sat.

But the highlight of the program for us was the Jazz Funeral appropriately dedicated to the passing of a faithful supporter of the Mobile arts community - J. Trufant. The dramatic opening of one dancer in black dress, center stage with an overhead spot, was a striking reminder of Martha Graham's fabled appearances. Then, in comes a long parade led so aptly by Anthony Ezell (bravo!) in solid black suit, white shoes, white gloves, and a black, beribboned New Orleans style umbrella. Now comes Wendy Horton as the widow, followed by a troupe of four boys imitating a spirited band, three girls in very bright colors, four girls in long, black, mourning dresses, and four pallbearers -- in a French Quarter funeral parade moving smartly to “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Later, in Just a Closer Walk With Thee, there was a fitting, symbolic white flower gesture of one dying and going on to "a closer walk" with God in heaven. Then as if the audience anticipated an encore, the group returned in foot stomping, gleeful dancing. The dramatic use of color, and the pantomime of the different units of dancers was a veritable counterpoint of choreography -- a marvelous, unified, rhythmical whole by choreographer/costume designer Nannette Whidby -- one of the most striking performances we've seen in a very long time. The closing Amen - Summertime - Miracle was a similar tour- de-force of modern dance.

In all this we have just a few minor observations. First, the volume of the music was overwhelming to the point of echoing. Second, the choreography in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue might have been a little sassier to match the whiny clarinet sound. Also the Celtic dancers upper bodies and hands often appeared tense rather than quietly relaxed -- a tall order for all of that footwork going on beneath.

Some nice little touches included the silk-like blue backdrop, the white flower in the Jazz Funeral (as memory or rebirth), the symbolic memorial umbrella (i.e., parapluie), the orange/yellow dresses that matched well (whether intended or not) with the concept "pieces of gold," and the many attempts at unifying the entire show into a complete whole (e.g., the music of the finale before the intermission that continued into the break). Given its purpose and level of expertise, this show was first rate.

The Harbinger, P.O. Box U-980, Mobile, AL 36688-0001