Dancing at the Crighton: A Trip Back Through Time

A recent excellent offering from the Montgomery County Performing Arts Society provided a memorable evening of dance. Of course, any trip to Conroe’s beautifully restored, 1930’s vaudeville-era theater is a trip back in time. But this performance, by the unique company of “Dance Through Time,” was the equivalent of a time machine. The six dancers in this extraordinary ensemble seemed more like 60 in number. They were modestly listed in the program with the single names Ewing, A’ Virmond, Butterfield, Owen, Levitt and VanLoon.The program proceeded chronologically from the 15th century to the present and opened with “Ballo,” an amusing yet stately medieval dance of courtship that was coy and prancing. Each of the dance segments was introduced by a comical verse. In this opening number the men in tights were chided with, “When an outfit shows its legs, It’s his and not hers!”

The 16th century “golden age” of the Italian Renaissance was represented by two period dances. The first was full of fun and bordered on early tap dancing without tap shoes. It had the look of the “challenge” dances of the famed Nicholas brothers, or contemporary tappers like Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. The second dance might be aptly named “Kick the Tassel,” and was probably quite daring for its time.

(I began to wonder if, perhaps, most all dancing is “daring for its time.”)

18th century dances began in the French court with the couplet introduction: “We read Isaac Newton — A man of great gravity!”

The “Contredanses” appeared to have early elements of square dancing. The “Folies d’Espagne” of the Spanish court hinted of the proud poses of flamenco that would later emerge.

The early 19th century program began a with an English “Country Dance” that had a merry “Nutcracker” atmosphere. That was followed by a fascinating dance demonstration of the complexity of simply “Dressing.” It was an amusing display of elaborate struggles with corsets and bloomers. (We may not be as elegant now, but long live the comfortable pair of blue jeans!) The finely tuned “Quadrille” would have been perfect for Scarlett O’Hara and her beaus.

It had cadet-like precision and evolved into a dazzling swirl worthy of Madame Bovary. The gowns were like gay, layered wedding cakes. In fact, the period costumes throughout the evening were a tribute to the detailed work of the company’s seven costume designers! And speaking of detail, the audience was told that the research of ancient dances was a daunting task requiring study of rare written records from dancing masters and detailed manuscripts which sometimes include every movement of a dance. Much credit must go to the company’s Choreographic Specialist for Dance Research, Angene Feves, and to Artistic Director, Carol Teten. Following a rigorous “Durang’s Hornpipe,” the performers collapse like rag dolls. We then moved on to late 19th century dance with this ditty: “We’re tired of the Victorian Way, And now we’re reading Dorian Gray!” After “Polka,” “Mazurka” and “Gallop,” we are treated to the grand “Cotillion.” We are watching history flash by to the delightful sounds of Strauss waltzes. What a combination! Indeed, all the carefully chosen musical selections for each period of dance were highlights of this production.

Following intermission the performers gave us a delightful grand tour of the more familiar 20th century. They glided like thoroughbreds in the “Castlewalk,” showed reckless abandon in “Apache,” and brought a haunting and proud sensuality to the “Tango.” As “flappers” they did a grand “Black Bottom” and “Charleston.” There was a poignant “Marathon” dance, a tribute to Fred and Ginger and a stunning black-tie “Big Apple.” There were Latin treats like the Rhumba and Mambo as well as the Big Band delights “Sing, Sing, Sing!” and “In the Mood.” The rock-n-roll era was covered from the “Twist” all the way to “Hip Hop” and included a disco segment to rival John Travolta. Woodlands residents Don Ward and Ruthellen Hinton were beaming as they left the theater and shook hands with performers who graciously met the audience outside the theater. Perhaps Ms. Hinton said it best: “What a wonderful evening!”

(The Courier    4.12.00)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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