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Steppin’ Up and Steppin’ Out
By Mae G. Banner

Phyllis Latin Dance Company
Spa Little Theater, Nov. 9

Phyllis Latin has been training ballet and Broadway-style dancers for nearly 40 years in Saratoga Springs, mostly out of the limelight. She doesn’t do an annual Nutcracker (a good thing, too, because we already have nine of them this year), but she has sent her students on to regional ballet troupes and international touring companies of shows like Cats.

In other words, Latin knows what mainstream audiences like, and she delivers. Last Saturday at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga Springs, Latin presented her newly formed company in a concert of two ballets and two tap suites, all of which the 15 dancers will perform next month in Moscow, where they’ve been invited to join a group of Russian dancers onstage.

To flesh out her young company of apprentice-level dancers, Latin hired Emiko Miyamoto and Cesar Ortiz, both on loan from the Joffrey Ballet, and Julie Pingel, who joined the troupe last summer. Also, she’s hired Maxim Gerasimov, a tall and winning dancer on loan from the Moscow Classical Ballet Company.

These four pros were at their best in Canzonetta, a delicate tidbit to a violin-cello duet performed onstage by Lamar and Ruth Alsop. The Alsops—he is the former concertmaster of the New York City Ballet Orchestra and she is a NYCB cellist—played vibrantly, giving depth to this brief vignette of crossings and meetings. Canzonetta, choreographed by the dancers themselves, was an effortless conversation between the two couples and the musicians that left me wishing for more.

Latin choreographed Partners, the opening ballet, to show off what three couples could do. Set to bland new-age music by Jim Chappell, the dance was a series of gymnastic tricks and poses that might have served for an ice-skating program. The women—Miyamoto with Ortiz, Pingel with Gerasimov, and sweet-faced Rachel Rodriguez with Ian Morris—jumped up and draped themselves over the men’s shoulders. A man somersaulted over a woman, then held her high overhead in a horizontal position.

We saw odd-angled and risky lifts, fast spins, men swinging women out like lassos at a rodeo, all neatly done by well-rehearsed dancers who were up for anything the choreographer handed them.

Gerasimov was captivating. He has a genuine smile and a true musicality. He uses his arms dynamically to define phrases, making even mundane choreography tell a story.

Tap took over the midsection of the evening. Company member and teacher Lesa Hayward choreographed Happy Feet, a suite of spangly dances to Broadway show tunes. She made good use of the stage space, setting up a chorus line that swung into a circle and then into a V shape. Nice segues between dances led the tappers from Fosse-influenced high kicks and finger snaps to fast and loose hiphop numbers.

Hayward and curly-haired Shaila Bora were featured in an ensemble of 11 dancers, all with big smiles and precise technique. The finale, One, from A Chorus Line, was high-octane razzle with all-American energy, glitter, and youthful appeal.

The printed program didn’t name a choreographer for Hey Benny, set to fine jazz classics by Benny Goodman, but the moves included some of Latin’s favorites: somersaults, splits and swingouts.

A couple of sections performed in black light sported tricky patterns of white-gloved hands and white-shod feet. A jitterbug section in sequined flapper dresses had tight dancing by couples, Savoy Ballroom aerials, and so many fun moves that you had to like it.

Big bubbles floated up from a 6-foot-high cardboard champagne glass for the finale, Sing, Sing, Sing. By now, the costumes were wall-to-wall glitz: gold, red, blue, green, silver and copper sequins and fringe. Still, the dancers’ wholesome exuberance managed to shine through all the trappings.

Morris showed his stuff with some well-placed jumps and spins, and Bora won the audience with a flirty, effervescent smile that never quit.

All the dancers—apprentices and professionals—were confident and vivacious. Such fine stage presence and technical skill means they are ready for the next level. Latin has a sure hand for the tried-and-true. Now that she’s got this good-looking company together, I’d like to see her take a few more choreographic chances.

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