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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 41.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Huge ensemble performs in Jazzworks Dance Company's Overture program
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The dancers performed with joy and excitement.
The dancers performed with joy and excitement.

Jazzworks Dance Company packed a lot of dancing -- and a lot of dancers -- into a two-hour production at the Overture Center's Capitol Theater on Friday night. The first act boasted six pieces, three of them premieres, performed by company members. The second act was one long and bustling piece, "A World Without Walls," featuring the company members and children from The Madison Professional Dance Center.

During the opening piece, "Rise," choreographed by company and school director Carol Marion Ceniti, I found myself reminded of some signature catchphrases from Project Runway's Tim Gunn: "That's a whole lotta look," about the sparkly chartreuse halter-top jumpsuits; and "Don't be afraid to edit," about the busy choreography. But even if the dance wasn't to my taste, the dancers were always good, including Ceniti herself.

The company's associate director and lone male dancer, Zach De Vries, debuted his new work, "The Promise of a New Day," set to a lovely version of "I Can See Clearly Now" by the Holly Cole Trio. While pleasing to view, the piece felt a bit crowded because so much of it was done in unison.

De Vries also had two other dances on the program, "Unshakable Anguish," with four dancers in shiny black and red costumes performing menacing and robotic movements; and later, his best work of the night as choreographer and dancer in "Love Delirium" with the excellent Megan Duster. Featuring simple costumes and a more spare tone, the duet had many beautiful moments, especially the smoothly handled athletic lifts and floor work. Duster has a solid foundation of strong technique and a no-nonsense style to her movement, which I admired in other pieces. That style was particularly well-suited to this work.

In the crowd-pleasing "Borrowed Baroque," by guest choreographer Sam Watson, I initially worried that the piece was too derivative of Paul Taylor and David Parson's works. But I came to appreciate it on its own merits, and the company members really shone, tackling the witty and sophisticated choreography and playing up the genuinely funny comedic moments as Watson poked fun at the fussy and musty elements of Baroque dance. De Vries in particular worked the audience with a devilish attitude.

Arianne Kluesner's flashy "Elvis is in the Building" closed the first act and was set to Presley's "A Little Less Conversation." Katie Aide stood out because she fully committed to the movement and seemed to be having so much fun bringing a sexy sassiness to the piece.

After intermission, "A World Without Walls," choreographed by Ceniti, De Vries and Kluesner, featured nine colorful movements, inspiration from Spanish, Indian and Irish dance, and a huge cast which added to the core company 40 dancers ranging in age from 7 to 18. It appears the young dancers are getting good training at the school, and many of them more than held their own with the company.

My eyes were continually drawn to Imani English, whose grace and confidence are packaged with real star quality. The piece got a bit exhausting to watch because there was so much going on, but some sections were quite good: the exuberant dancing from the kids in spangly yellow costumes in Section 3, the dynamic, Bollywood-inspired Section 6 and the serene and swirling Section 8.

Seeing all of those young dancers performing with such joy and excitement reminded me what fun dancing can be.

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