Dancing through the decades
Third Ave. Dance sprints through 100 years of dance

Break-dancer Joey Nakama tumbles into the Hip Hop finale of "Dancing Through the Decades: A journey through the history of American dance in the 20th century," which shows on Saturday afternoon at the Smiley Theater./Photo by Todd Newcomer

by Judith Reynolds

When break-dancer Joey Nakama dives to the floor, spins on his head and fleetingly tosses in gymnastic moves, you know you’re seeing the real thing. In a flash, Nakama lifts his body barely off the floor with two strong hands and swirls his legs high. It’s the Thomas Flair. That brief glimpse of Olympian Kurt Thomas’ spellbinding gymnastic flourish appears and vanishes. It’s but one example of creative quotation in an entertaining and highly polished program put on by Durango’s resident dance ensemble.

Nakama is part of the Third Avenue Dance Co.’s spring show, a swift, energetic and colorful look at dance styles over the last century. The one-hour program goes by as quickly as Nakama’s sparkling solo. There’s only one performance this spring, a 2 p.m. matinee this Sat., April 15, at the Smiley Theater.

-“Decades” is a program designed as family entertainment. Narrator Maureen May knits the collage together with breezy tidbits linking history to cultural shifts and dance styles.

An opening tableau sets a tongue-in-cheek tone for the whole show. Stylized, mock serious dancers frame café tables where flirtation turns on a glance, a pout and the requisite red rose. Suzi DiSanto dances into and out of the arms of Brian Halloway’s behatted and becloaked Rudolf Valentino. It’s a short, teasing send up of the tango.

Grandparents and kids alike will love the jazzy remembrance of the 1920s with a fringed, high-energy rendition of the Charleston. For the 1930s, DiSanto floats out in a white chiffon dress and platinum wig to dance with Dimitri Grimberg in (what else?) a white tux. To trumpeter Harry James’ “Stardust,” they create a little Hollywood frisson from all those musicals featuring Astaire and Rogers. In sharp contrast, Lisa Bodwalk and company snap a military salute from the wings and tap dance into the 1940s. The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” also finds Sadie Carhart and Dimitri Grimberg doing the jitterbug.

Suddenly the modern era intrudes with Halloway as Elvis and some Rock and Roll screaming and swooning. An audience-friendly session of hand jive morphs into the centerpiece of the show, the Frug from the ’60s. Bodwalk takes a solo role in an adaptation of a campy, Bob Fosse piece. Adorned in little black dresses and white wigs, the women slouch and shrug, the men remain cool and casual. It’s a witty take on the days of Get Smart, the mini dress and early James Bond.

The 1970s brought us Disco, ugh, as everyone from this year’s Snowdown remembers. The company glides around the dance floor in big hair and tight pants snagging quotations from the Bump, the Freak and the Swim. And it seems but a step to the darker ’80s world of Michael Jackson and Madonna, skillfully impersonated by Bodwalk and Kristen Brewer.

The final chapters contrast contemporary dance with the street gyrations of hip hop. “Wayfaring,” choreographed by San Franciscan Janice Garrett, is essentially a playful, bare-footed piece that borrows the straight-torso style of Irish step dancing and transforms it into something new. The year 2000-plus final section is all hip hop. Solo flourishes feature the entire company, topped by Nakama and Jay Alexander’s spectacular breakdancing.

Over the last six years, the company has changed, added to, and polished “Decades.” Performed annually in local schools, “Decades” has become the company’s signature piece. And this year a coalition of supporters has made it possible for fifth graders to see it in a theatrical setting (Smiley), not in a school gym. As I’ve seen “Decades” evolve, the 2006 edition is not only snappier and peppered with humor, but executed at a level of sophistication hard to believe in a small town. •



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