Thursday, April 12, 2012

This North Coast Weekend

Humboldt Light Opera Company opens the baseball romance musical Damn Yankees on Friday (April 13) at 7:30 p.m. at the College of the Redwoods Forum Theater.  It stars James Gadd, Carol Escobar, Lela Annotto-Pemberton, Robert Keiber, Melissa Trauth, Bill Ryder, and Brad Curtis as the devil.  The show plays weekends (Sunday matinees at 2) until April 28.

At HSU, Of Time and Rhythm, this year's spring dance concert, opened Wednesday and plays Thursday-Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2 in the Van Duzer Theatre. (One weekend only.)  I don't know enough to write about dance so I usually don't, but I saw this show opening night and enjoyed all the dances and the music.  But I was really knocked out by one dancer.  Her name is Kara Ajetunmobi.  She first attracted my attention last year, for a typically goofy reason.  In editing publicity photos for the HSU Stage blog and to send out, I was struck by her resemblance in the photos to the British actor Freema Agyeman (TV's Bleak House, the David Tennant Doctor Who, and most recently on the UK version of Law & Order.).  I enjoyed her dancing last spring, but this year I was simply mesmerized.  Strong, graceful but economical, not a gesture wasted or less than impressive.  I noticed her especially in two dances in the second half of the program: "Follow" (and I wasn't the only one--when it finished I heard a gasp and a "wow" not coming from me) and "O'numinous." (She's first in the photo.) 

The student choregraphed dances, the big show pieces by faculty members Erin McKeever ("Constellations") and Sharon Butcher ("No Ecosystems...") were terrific, but I was anticipating Linda Maxwell's Broadway/Hollywood show dance, which I knew (and publicized) by its working title, "Slap That Bass."  That song, and another in this dance ("You Can't Take That Away From Me") are originally from the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers movie, Shall We Dance, with music by George Gershwin.  I just watched it again recently on DVD, and a featurette that revealed that at one point, George Balanchine was asked to choreograph a dance for the film.  He was interested but scheduling didn't work.  He admired Fred Astaire tremendously.  Just months afterward, George Gershwin was dead at the age of 38.  But imagine what history might have been made with Gershwin, Astaire and Balanchine! 

In any case, this dance didn't use the Astaire versions of these songs.  I was unfamiliar with the shows excerpted, but it was all fun, and the dancing was like musical theatre dancing at its best--big, energetic, winsome, enthusiastic (Dani Gutierrez especially sparkled, and some great dancing guys really added to the energy.)  But it made me wonder: why don't we ever see dancing like this at HSU in an actual musical?

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