Salsa, spirituals, klezmer music, the big bands and songs of Kurt Weill _ what a rich mix went into Friday night's performance by Danny Buraczeski's Jazzdance at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. It was like an archaeological dig into the sources of popular entertainment, with some terrific dancers to bring it all to life on stage.
Jazzdance, a nine-member company from Minneapolis, was appearing as part of the Florida Dance Festival. It will repeat the program at 8 tonight at Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.
The highlight of the evening was On My Way, Buraczeski's wonderful tribute to Mahalia Jackson. The suite of six dances was performed against Susan Weil's backdrop of birdlike shapes on a starry field of blue.
The dancing tended to draw attention to the upper torso and arms, as opposed to the legs in ballet. Maria Lynne Vignone's acrobatic solo was especially eye-catching, with a boffo finish that had the tiny dancer flying into the wings as Jackson sang that the walls of Jericho had come tumbling down.
The program opened with Fuerza Viva to music by Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie and Machito. Buraczeski's precise, tightly molded choreography was based on the mambo and the samba and other Latin dances. It had a lot of flashy partnering somewhat in the style of the popular movie from a few years ago, Strictly Ballroom, but speeded up to a hectic pace.
The only work on the program that didn't take off was Les Exiles, a duet to Weill songs. The problem was not the performers _ Buraczeski and the extraordinary Cathy Young _ but perhaps had something to do with Ute Lemper's guttural vocals or even the atmospheric lighting. It was vaguely evocative but uninvolving.
The program closed with Swing Concerto, an exuberant exploration of what Buraczeski sees as the linkage between Jewish klezmer music and how Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman played clarinet. The jitterbugging was fabulous.
Tonight's performance by Jazzdance is part of the dance festival's initial efforts to expand its reach into Pinellas County. The Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, which doubles as City Hall, won't have the sophisticated lighting design of the TBPAC show, but Buraczeski's company is resourceful. They'll probably figure out how to use the smaller space to its best advantage.
These dancers are so good it would be a joy to see them hoof in a parking lot.
Friday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Repeated at 8 tonight at Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $5 and $6. Call 942-5605.