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April 11, 2000

Parapluie, A Shower of Dance

A Review by Pat and Ernie Pinson

There’s that wonderful umbrella again. The Parapluie (French for umbrella) Dance Company provided experience for its dancers and entertainment for its Mobile audience on Saturday, March 25. According to the program, their third purpose is to provide education through dance fundamentals in the schools. This group acts as an umbrella for many studios along the coast and allows the best students a venue for performance.

Dancers are given the chance to work with choreographers such as Nannette Whidby, a Florida educator and dance activist; John Parks from the Alvin Ailey Dancers and now professor at the University of South Florida; and Ashlie Solomon, rising young dancer and choreographer. The international flavor in this mix, Louise Denison, is Artistic Director of a dance troupe in England and has facilitated an exchange program between Parapluie and her country. Three students will be involved this year.

The program was entitled “Not By Bread Alone” and may be the philosophy of the group but it had little to do with the program content. There were 6 studios from coastal Alabama and Florida involved with 30 participants who danced the blues, modern dance and ballet.

Ms. Denison choreographed the opening and closing dances -- both of which were eclectic and thoroughly contemporary in their movements. The Apprentice/Junior Company opened the program with “Traveler” which was danced in black costume with atmospheric light and smoke. Students danced in short solos, duos, small and large groups -- each traveling his own path within the corps.

The Senior company performed the last “Blues in the Night” to a cityscape backdrop and a series of songs from the 40s and 50s. Costumes were bright and there were some radiant moments -- dancers responded well to each other in “Makin’ Whoopee,” the whole company was especially into “Let the Good Times Roll” (the lip sync was really good) and “Blues in the Night” sizzled. You could see Denison’s experience with choreographing musical theater in this work.

Perhaps the most unique was a life story in dance based on Ida Goodson, a local blues and gospel performer who passed away earlier this year. It was choreographed by John Parks who originally worked with Goodson on it. The recorded dialogue and the music Goodson loved made this work episodic and somewhat disjunct, but was provocative in that the dance goes on whether the music changes or disappears.

Ashlie Solomon’s “Breaking Through” was a portrayal of people struggling to break through a wall, and was done in black costume with scarves smacking of Eastern Europe. The emotions of the dancers evolved, and the anguished context gave way to submission or subjection as they were finally dragged under -- and all of this was done on a bare stage with a stretch cloth backdrop, effective lighting and a little smoke.

The most traditional dance was “Visions,” a ballet portraying Joan of Arc’s imprisonment choreographed by Nanette Whidby and set to Mozart’s Requiem. Five members of the senior company danced this intense scene very effectively. The minimal set was impressive especially when the priest took down the cross to carry to Joan’s execution. The frame he took it from left the image of a sword. Nice touch.

Parapluie provides a different facet to the Mobile arts scene and one which is vital. Being placed on stage with only your body to communicate emotion or even ideas is one of the most demanding disciplines in the arts. This event is not the usual dance recital, but a professional performance using local talent. The involvement of words in the music throughout was interesting -- Soprano Phyllis Demetropoulos presented an art song and an aria -- and soundtracks often used words evocative of the dance. The program involved a variety that was bound to please everybody in the audience at least sometime -- and the audience was very receptive.

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