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Stamford Center For The Arts
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A Story Dance in Ballroom Form: RHYTHM OF LOVE at Stamford Center For The Arts

by Tonya Plank
December 21, 2007
Stamford Center For The Arts
Palace Theater
61 Atlantic Street

Stamford, CT 06901
203-358-2313
For two nights only, on December 21st and 22nd, The Stamford Center For The Arts, in Stamford, Connecticut, put on a ballroom dance show entitled "Rhythm of Love." This, however, was not just an ordinary ballroom extravaganza, consisting of a series of beautiful but disconnected ballroom routines. Rather, it was a full-length story dance that used ballroom to tell its narrative. Ballet, modern, theater dance, and more recently Argentine Tango, have traditionally been the forms of dance through which this kind of "play without words" is told. But with public awareness of ballroom dance ever increasing via popular TV shows such as "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," studios, dance companies and dance presenters, expectedly, are beginning to use ballroom dance in such productions.

The dancing here was performed by several couples who have achieved excellence in ballroom dance, also called DanceSport: current American Rhythm national champions Jose DeCamps and Joanna Zacharewicz; present American Smooth champions J.T. Thomas and Tomasz Mielnicki; top showdance couple Garry and Rita Gekhman; previous American Rhythm winners Felipe Telona and Carolina Orlovsky-Telona; and, finally, and by the far most well-known among the general public, Pasha Kovalev and Anya Garnis, who most recently toured with "So You Think You Can Dance," and before that had been finalists at the prestigious Blackpool Dance Festival in England and the U.S. National Championship.

The story in "Rhythm of Love" is simple and sweet, with a touch of originality. A boy, played by Rhythm dancer Benito Garcia, meets a girl, ballet and ballroom dancer Emilee Peterson. The boy courts the girl, who gives into his advances but far too slowly for his liking. At one point, she suggests they see a dance performance together. He is not very interested in such "girlish" things, but, hoping to get his coveted kiss at the end of the evening, is game. So, off they go to "the ballet." This being a ballroom show, however, the "ballet" consists not of a ballerina in pointe shoes, but of a ballroom couple – the lovely Thomas and Mielnicki — dancing a soft, lyrical, ballet-like Waltz. The boy nearly falls asleep during that first Waltz, but is jolted awake by the couple's second dance, a racier number consisting of a variety of ballroom styles, including the sexier Rumba. Taken with this more passionate dance, the boy wishes to learn ballroom himself. So, boy and girl begin taking dance lessons, which are taught by the various couples. The cute upshot is that, once the boy begins seriously learning, the girl falls for his effort and decides it is time to let him kiss her. But he is now too focused to get the hint. Finally, boy and girl dance beautifully together, become a couple, and the show ends on happy note.

The many sexy and wildly fun numbers – gorgeously sultry tangos performed by the Telonas, fast and fun Mambos and jumping and jiving Swings by the endlessly energetic DeCamps and Zacharewicz, and Latin combinations creatively fused with Hip Hop by the ever-talented Kovalev and Garnis — made for a very entertaining evening dance-wise, and all of the dancing was excellent. In particular Jose DeCamps was a surprisingly charismatic performer. Whenever he was onstage, even if not dancing but simply standing around posturing, he completely commanded one's attention seemingly without trying to do so. J.T. Thomas also has a real knack for acting and could do well on Broadway if she so chose.

But the show only half met its goal of telling an evening-length narrative through ballroom dance alone. At the beginning, the boy and girl eye each other from across the room of a high school chemistry class. After a voice-over speaks of the chemical laws of attraction, music breaks out and the ensemble of dancers, led by Kovalev and Garnis, dance a sexy, upbeat Latin dance combination to the song "Hip Hip, Chin Chin." But, while great fun to watch, the song's lyrics and thus the dance have more to do with rhythm than with the chemistry between lovers. That dance merges into a duet by the Gekhmans entitled "Freak-A-Zoid," the couple's showdance-winning routine at last year's National Championships. This dance, while also having nothing to do with "Rhythm of Love's" story-line, poses another problem for a general audience. The routine was a championship winner because of its stylistic novelty and its difficulty. At one point, the partners release their traditional ballroom handhold while nevertheless managing to move fluidly around the vast ballroom floor in perfect frame, connected only at the pelvis. It is feats like this that ballroom judges and enthusiasts admire, but outside of a competition setting, they are largely lost on a general audience who cannot appreciate the difficulty or unique style.

Next, the boy and girl's desirous dreams of each other are illustrated nicely by a couple of tangos. But those are followed by some sexy Latin numbers – a mambo by DeCamps and Zacharewicz, and a Samba by Kovalev and Garnis — that relate to the plot only in a very general "I lust for you" way.

It is not until midway through that the actual dancing begins to gel with the story, when the girl takes the boy to the "ballet" and he becomes smitten with the dancing, then with learning to dance himself. From there on out, each dance performed by the various couples has a purpose: either to teach the main characters to dance, either through actual instruction (there are a couple of comical group numbers where the women teach the girl to let loose and the men teach the boy to maintain body control without gyrating too wildly), or to perform for them, and for us the audience, allowing us to watch and the main characters to try to imitate.

Overall the production was a novel and entertaining attempt to tell a story through ballroom dance, but was lacking. The 1500-seat theater was only about one-quarter full. If the show's organizers wish to build a larger-scale production, which I hope they will, they must realize that a full-length show is not the same as a ballroom competition, that concert dance audiences are very different from DanceSport spectators. Creative choreographers must be employed who can devise dance numbers that are organic to the show's narrative, that grow out of the characters' wishes and needs, and are not simply reinvented duets that won the performers a prize at a prestigious ballroom competition.
Felipe Telona and Carolina Orlovsky-Telona.

Felipe Telona and Carolina Orlovsky-Telona.

Photo © & courtesy of Stamford Performing Arts Center

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