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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Blast Grows Up

Or: In the Swing of things.

For me, Ballroom events all ways burn a little when going down. There’s no form of dance I find more graceful, but I am always consumed by envy of those sleek Cats and Kittens who so disingenuously whirling themselves about. The Blast dancers and choreographers were kind enough to create cages of stories to contain their wild and energetic showcase. There are tales of murder, love both fresh and well preserved, whimsical car-based relationships and the joys of growing up in the 90’s. Here are the six most compelling dances of the evening:

“What the Hell” (Jive) choreographed by Nichole Williams and Kevin Lewis.

As with any performance, the opening moment is everything. In the first dance of the evening Blast leaps forward and tags its audience, inviting us to chase it down the roads childishness and sorrow, elegance and murder we shall encounter later. The eponymous song, by Avril Lavigne, blasts and shimmers as six dancers oil their way across the floor, each doing their best to seduce the audience by raised eyebrows, hip isolations, smirks, and flips extraordinary. Suffice to say that they succeed, and whet our appetite for the weightier events to come.

The only downside to the piece that I could find was the cat-call’s that it called up from the audience, who continued to voice their admiration throughout the evening. I am given to understand that such behavior invigorates the dancers rather than distracting them, but would warn new spectators to grapple their attentions to the works with extra care and resist all urges to throttle their neighbors into silence.

“On my Shoulder” (Blues and Rhumba) choreographed by Alex Straley and Katherine Ardeleanu.

We find a man (Straley) and woman (Ardeleanu) in perfect harmony apparently having found what-they-were-looking-for in each others arms. Or perhaps not. Suddenly She leaves Him (why is never clearly stated) and He sinks into a depression. He is found by two etherial beings: one in a white toga, upright and graceful (Gryaznova) the other (Fitzpatrick) in ragged black dress dress, sleek and feral. They battle over the actions of the man like two puppeteers on the same marionette: Toga to get him to move on with his life, Dress to mire him in feelings of rage and despair. Their battle by double proxy expands when She walks back into the His’s life, on the arm of another fella. What follows is a desperate dance to the death between mortal, angel and demon, where heavily influenced actions of reconciliation and forgiveness are thrown by spectral gesture into violence, then caught and translated to kindness again. Truly, brake-ups are the pits.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Blast is that many of its members highlight their dances, not only with the stern glare of concentration or the benevolent chipmunk smile but a whole variety of expressions to their movements. The four performers of “On My Shoulder” are each adapt at wringing out the tragic tale as it winds its way toward the classically inevitable confusion.

“Cinderella” (Viennese Waltz) choreographed by Annie Weiss and Katherine Ardeleanu.

The act one finale showcases the eponymous song by Steven Curtis Chapmen, which is swiftly becoming a favorite opener at wedding receptions across the country for reasons both right and obvious. Its tale of a father watching his daughter grow from girl to woman is illustrated by three couples; each father (Kellert, Poon, and Straley) switching off between the three growing daughters (Vernon, Weiss and Cianciaruso). There’s no great reveal or death defying tricks, only grace of movement, generosity of spirit and the bittersweet reminder that all children grow up.

“Spicing up the Marriage” (Salsa) by Alex Straley.

Three stay-at-homes decide to surprise their working spouses with fancy dress and sweeping them off their feet when they walked in the door. While the nuances of each relationship are not explicitly clear, there is enough there to make it a character piece and our attention is neatly shared between each couple. Straley keeps our interest meter is continually cranked up as as the couples, though apparently unaware of each other, try more and more impressive tricks to impress their spouses and/or neighbors.

The emphasis is on Impressive. I nearly joined in the admired chorus of cat calls with a burst of “No-no-not-the-foot-you’ll-kill-her!” before the couple in question had, with Houdini precision, executed its maneuver, escaped bodily harm and moved on to new flavors of martial spice. Hat’s off to Wang, Kappeler, Lopez, Williams, Borzym, and Jensen for having such control of themselves and trust in each other.

“Ghost” (Blues) by Madison Fitzpatrick.

A Man (Shaley) walks through the cold winds to his lover’s grave. He lays flowers for her and vibrates with longing for, as the directors note put it “one more day-one more dance”. The melancholy plink of Hugh Laurie's (actor/writer/musician/demigod) rendition of “St. Jaime's Infirmary” summons to his side the shade of his departed lover (Fitzpatrick). Locked again in each others arms and moving in perfect, rapturous harmony, ghost and man glide and step across the stage, perfectly in control and enthralled in each others company. As Laurie’s song grows more and more heated so to does the visitation become more and more conjugal until the ghost, as all ghosts must, dissipates with a wry sad smile and leaves the her partner alone again. Sweet and sad and gripping: everything you could ask for in dance laid out like a gift on christmas morning from a perished relative.

“Look Ma, I’m a Barrista Now!” (Swing) by Lauren Wustenburg and Madison Fitzpatrick.

A new Barista at the cleverly named “Brewed Awakenings” (Arnston) rushes about trying to have a perfect first day of business while her partner (Rendos) lounges and watches her with amusement. Their customers (Chou, Landis, Lee and Wustenburg) burst into the shop, one couple already caffeinated, finding joy in everything the other a dazed pair that have spent a long night writing midterms (or something...). While the Peppy play pranks on the Dazed, and the Barista tries in vain to get anyones order, Frank Sinatra’s slightly bemusing but highly appropriate and always welcome “Coffee Song” sets fire to their feet. A nice visual pun is, becoming sensible their server’s distress Landis and Wustenburg separate from their own partners to get her “into the Swing of things”. A nice clear, happy note to go out on before the obligatory full company stop-about and the end to a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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