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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 60.0° F  Fair


The illusion of fusion
Kanopy Dance goes flamenco, with mixed results

A brave performance with bits of brilliance.
A brave performance with bits of brilliance.
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Kanopy Dance Company's "Fall for Dance: Passionate Fusion" packed Overture's Promenade Hall last Friday night. This notable growth in community support for dance performance was satisfying. So were some of the dances.

Kanopy artistic directors Lisa Thurrell and Robert Cleary originally aimed for fusion with local flamenquera Tanya Tandias, but the chemistry wasn't convincing. The result was mostly a set of separate works. Kanopy's got more solid dancers than usual this year, but flamenco's brio isn't in their kit.

The show's intro, choreographed by Cleary, Tandias and Thurrell, revealed a sense of fun that helped level the edges of uneven technique. While the audience was seated, Kanopy dancers spoofed a warmup, piling on legwarmers and ace bandages, moaning and groaning. The house lights dimmed. Thurrell swept out in full Martha Graham regalia, pronounced cell phones and videos off limits, looked at the dancers and emoted: "Oh, if they'd just point their feet and maybe take a dance class now and then!"

On this cue Tandias' dancers tried teaching Kanopy a campy compas. In an interlude, Tandias and Cleary, a rose between his teeth, hammed up an Almodovaresque tango worth keeping in the repertory.

Tandias, accompanied by two of her dancers, did a pair of palos, "Alegrías" and "Bulerías." The music and costumes were spicier than the dancing, though Tandias' capable taconeos elicited a heartfelt "Olé!" from the audience.

Kanopy's full ensemble revisited Thurrell's "Come Months, Come Away," a painterly barefoot ode-to-autumn ballet choreographed a decade ago. It was an odd choice for this program, but the style - a light touch, constantly changing patterns, lush lighting - works well on this company, highlighting movement while masking technical discrepancies.

"For Persephone Ate the Pomegranate," a solo for a woman in a red dress, is one of Thurrell's top works in classic Graham technique. Unlike "Come Months," this chameleon-like repertory piece fit "Passionate Fusion" to a T. In the company's fall show following Sept. 11, it smoked with hopeless anger. This time, set on and adeptly executed by Elizabeth Fine, it oozed flamenco's tragic tone.

Tandias whipped off vueltas and clacked castanets, invoking the duende in her fiery solo "Fandango."

For the finale, Cleary, Tandias and Thurrell wrought workable fusion from the theme of "Sensemayá - canto para matar una culebra" ("song to kill a snake"), penned by Afro-Cuban revolutionary poet Nicolas Guillen. Kanopy principal dancer Brianne Schenkel (as the snake) and Tandias (the matador) matched skillful wits till the last gasp - an inspired duet, though the dancers in long black dresses circling the action lacked luster.

I've seen both better and worse from Kanopy, but what's important is this: The company's a city treasure with authentic artistic vision. It's hard to train professional-level dancers without considerable funding. But "Passionate Fusion" was a brave performance with bits of brilliance. For that, bravo.

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