Dancing at Joplin Festival a little ragged

February 22, 1993|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Contributing Writer

At the eighth Scott Joplin Festival at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Eva Anderson's Baltimore Dance Theatre brought together musicians and dancers to celebrate the music of the beloved ragtime composer in a warm and fuzzy evening full of historical facts about dance, music and African-American culture.

Unfortunately, unlike past performances, the quality of the dancing was not up to the company's usual high-spirited efforts. The energy level was scattered, and several dancers were obviously under-rehearsed. Even Ms. Anderson, a woman of great dignity and composure, was flustered in her attempts to introduce the dances and guest artists.

The first half of the Saturday night program was dedicated to music, and local composer and musician David Bunn opened the festival with an original composition, "America Is," that had a Gershwin-like appeal in its takeoff on a "Traditional Negro Spiritual." Next, Mr. Bunn's group of nine musicians performed Joplin's well-known "Elite Syncopation."

Following Mr. Bunn's ensemble, Hortense R. Kerr and Marva Cooper deftly performed "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel, Concert Scherzo for Two Pianos" by the late Thomas H. Kerr Jr.

When the dance half of the program began, the audience was primed for some movement, so it was disconcerting to be disappointed in this energetic and committed company that has such a strong foundation, both choreographically and technically.

Ms. Anderson's first dance, "A Two Step and Other Steps," was a lively work to Joplin's "Cleopha Two Step." Despite the music's upbeat rhythms, the dancing gelled only at its conclusion.

"Sketches of Spain," to the music of Miles Davis, attempted to give a summary of Spain's conquest of the Moors and the New World. Ms. Anderson's work for two men and four women had some strong visual moments, notably in the duets, but overall the work was marred by the unevenness of the dancers' technique and choreography that too often meandered through Joaquin Rodrigo's abstract score.

With the help of the "Almighty Mickeez," a local group that performs high-powered hip-hop, the energy level was raised about 1,000 kilowatts in the improvisational work "Hambone."

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