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THE BUFFALO Dance Festival, now in its fourth year, has grown more experimental, relying on minimalist music and often avante-garde choreography. This is not necessarily a step in the wrong direction. Still, this "downtown" mixture of dance will not appeal to everyone even though three of the pieces performed Thursday evening in Buffalo State College's Rockwell Hall were outstanding.

Given the chance, The Buffalo Dance Festival may very well become the harbinger of new Buffalo talent, in the vein of visual artists such as Charles Dennis or choreographers such as Laura Dean.

Directed by Keith Carcich and featuring six premieres and selections from seven dance companies, Thursday's opening program, unlike previous years, focused on an eclectic mix of performance art and theatrical, modern dance.

The program began with a strong piece of choreography by Marvin Askew, of the Buffalo Inner City Ballet. Entitled "Tri-Bio-Rhythm," to the music of Philip Glass, dancers Susan Bernas, Clare Fetto, and Marvin Askew captured attention by successfully following the abrupt shifts of the music. The interaction of three different individuals and their bio-rhythms are explored here as the dancers, clad in silver-blue unitards, display their skill at both developpes and floor rolls.

This is a visual piece; the choreography is reflective of the music and is intricately structured. While Fetto's lovely extensions complement Bernas' deep plies, Askew performs as the central force who lifts the other dancers. There is a circularity to the abstract choreography which makes the piece unified and carefully thought out.

The premiere of Brian Jon's "Dancing with Moosaline" is a clear example of "New Wave" dance, with its intentional punk-rock, athletic feel and almost grotesque silhouettes. Gender is deliberately blurred, as we see one man with a long blond wig put on lipstick and then angrily wipe it off.

Gritty and disturbing in parts, it is nonetheless a strong piece of choreography as it explores the commonality of opposites -- in this case black and white. Karlton Evans and Brian Jon alternately run, leap, and stylistically engage in suggestive, gender-bending poses with strength and energy.

Another example of this style was the premiere of Floorplay Dance Theatre's "Son;" and The Festival Ballet Ensemble's "Street." Both pieces used large video screens to make the audience feel the importance of the setting.

"Son," choreographed by Beverly Cordova-Duane, is a socially-conscious dance which is about world hunger. The three featured dancers are adept at conveying great anguish and horror. They use their cyclical arm motions to convey the nature of world famine. "Street," choreographed by Clare Fetto and Keith Carcich, is a contemporary ballet where lights, traffic, and frenetic activity set the tone. The action begins as we see people walking. Punk ballerinas, dressed in black and white, strut and tiptoe. En pointe, they twist their hips and perform character port de bras. Kien Truong, as the only male, is a strong jumper who has a clean technique and fluid athleticism. Each dancer is a specific individual or type and each performs admirably.

The program also featured these premieres: Craig Zara's earthy solo "Unveil/Reveal;" of William E. Thomas' "In the Eye of the Storm;" and Emily Kaye's "Mistaken Identity," featuring talented student dancers Cara Traynor and Una Traynor.

Performances tonight and Saturday will feature some of these works as well as pieces by The African Dance and Drum Performance Troupe, Pick of the Crop, Ecclectic Dance Works, Liliana Mosaic Dancers, and the Nichols Dance Ensemble. Curtain time is 8 p.m.

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