For much of the year, Tampa Bay suffers from a sort of modern dance myopia: The occasional touring company passes through town for a one- or two-night stand, while local dancers struggle to find an audience. Then, stunningly, comes the Florida Dance Festival, a 10-day extravaganza of all kinds of dance, from ebullient folk and contemporary styles to refined ballet.
The festival, which opens tonight and runs through June 23, is mainly a chance for Florida companies and choreographers to share ideas and show off their work. For many who have watched the event evolve over the years, it has been especially gratifying to see both the growing diversity of Florida dancers and the improved performance standards that some of the more mainstream companies have been able to achieve.
But showing an admirable balance between boosterism and artistic challenge, the sponsoring Florida Dance Association also invites a smattering of out-of-state artists to enrich the program.
This year, the festival will have its first international visitor, Nucleodanza, a modern dance company from Buenos Aires. In a mixed program on Saturday, June 22, at the 900-seat Playhouse in the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Nucleodanza will perform three pieces: a humorously satirical dance-romp called The Patagonia Song and Dance Team; Mysteriously, This Won't Happen, described as a physically and sexually taut duet; and The Stab, a biting piece of social commentary that focuses on Argentina's history of male violence and political dictatorship.
Other highlights of the festival include:
Steps Ahead, a trio of tap dancers from Los Angeles who will perform with live jazz musicians Sunday in Tampa at the Loft Theater and at the University of South Florida's Theater 2 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mary Street Dance Theater, a Miami-based modern company led by up-and-coming choreographer Dale Andree, performing Thursday at the 300-seat Jaeb Theater in the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
Keith Terry, a performance artist who not only dances but also plays his body like a percussion instrument, at the Jaeb Theater next Friday and Saturday, June 21-22.
Isis, a female group from Atlanta, at the Loft tonight (8 o'clock), Saturday, Wednesday and June 22-23.
Crucifixion, a cast of young dancers, drummers and singers from the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, led by Tampa dancer-choreographer Reginald Yates, will perform Thursday at the USF Theater 2.
Demetrius A. Klein and Dancers, an intense but engaging avant-garde company from Lake Worth, will perform Wednesday at USF Theater 2.
Sarasota Ballet of Florida, founded last year and directed by Montreal transplant Eddy Toussaint, will make its festival debut at USF Theater 2 Wednesday.
Freddick Bratcher and Company, led by a Miami dancer-choreographer, will present "De-Ghettorized Boho Hip-Hop" to music by Harry Nilsson, Kool G Rap and Slick Rick on Wednesday at USF Theater 2.
Southern Ballet Theater, Orlando's resident ballet company, which gave the state's other leading ballet company (the Miami City Ballet of Edward Villella) some things to think about at last year's festival, will also be on the Wednesday night program at USF Theater 2.
Numerous other local and state groups will be featured among the various "Florida Dances" programs on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at USF.
For ticket information, call the respective box offices at the Loft (972-3383), USF (974-3000), or the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (800-955-1045), or call Ticketmaster at 287-8844.
Florida Dance Festival
Through June 23. Tonight _ performance duo Isis at the Loft Theater, 1441 Fletcher Ave., 8 p.m.; tickets are $10, $8 for students and seniors. For other performance dates and times, call the Loft at 972-3383 (Tampa).