The twice-yearly concerts from the University of South Florida's dance department have earned a reputation for the student performers' high level of artistry and craftsmanship. In many cases - perhaps even most cases - the quality of the dance doesn't differ appreciably from that of a solid professional company.
So for people who have been following these concerts over the years, the DanceUSF spring concert, titled "Drawing the Line," starts in a highly disappointing way. The performances in Tides of Carrigaholt are distressingly sloppy and tentative. The dancers wear phony-looking grins and seem completely uncommitted to what might have been a fascinating and joyous blend of classical ballet and Celtic dance.
But any disappointment is short-lived. After that first piece, the students come to life and deliver an evening of stylistic diversity and crisp performances.
Even Tides of Carrigaholt has plenty of charm, and the lackluster performances don't destroy its effectiveness. Choreographer Donna Silva hasn't found common ground between ballet and Irish styles, but she has found a way to blend the two in an intriguing way.
That piece is followed Jeanne Travers' Talisman, a sensual, unsettling post-apocalyptic work. Travers said she drew her inspiration from the natural disasters of the past year and a half, and that influence is apparent in Beau Edwardson's swirling, flashing lights, Erin Cardinal's ragged costumes and Travers' starkly dramatic choreography. The student dancers offer precise, believable performances.
Lynne Wimmer's My Brother's Keeper, based on John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, has wonderful moments of drama, pathos and humor. But on the whole, it doesn't have lot of impact as either dance or narrative. People who are intimately familiar with the novel will undoubtedly get a lot more out if it than others.
Still, it's an interesting piece for people familiar with Wimmer's work. In recent years, Wimmer has been known for creating edgy multimedia works that are as much about film, theater and music as they are about dance. My Brother's Keeper, which Wimmer created in 1975, provides insight into the roots of her later style.
The one purely classical ballet piece on the program, the familiar Grand Pas from Paquita, is beautifully performed by a large cast draped in luscious traditional costumes by Gretchen Ward Warren.
The program ends strongly with Boundary, a new work by USF alumnus and guest faculty member Andy Noble. Set to wild and occasionally discordant accordion music by Astor Piazzolla, it's a stark, vaguely dystopian piece that explores the limitations of social conformity.
Audiences who saw the first weekend of concerts were treated to Give Out, Give Up, an attractive solo piece choreographed and performed by Jennifer Jones. For this weekend's show, that will be replaced another solo work, Ruiz's Crossed.
REVIEW: "Drawing the Line" repeats at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Theatre I at the University of South Florida Tampa campus. $12 adults, $6 seniors and students. (813) 974.2323; www.artsmart.usf.edu.