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In am ambitious spring program consisting of four premieres, Pick of the Crop Dance continues to expand its definitions of contemporary dance.

Premieres by guest choreographers Terry Creach and Caroline Oxenham gave depth to the program, while premieres by company director Elaine Gardner showed an attentiveness to artistic detail and a willingness to take choreographic risks.

Taken as a whole, Friday's preview performance was a study in contemplative mood and introspection -- more suited perhaps to a winter evening than the beginning of spring -- but nevertheless well-danced and interesting.

The program opened with "So, Two Now," choreographed by Whitley Setrakian and featuring Gardner, Patricia Farkas-Sprague and Leslie Smolen. This is a dance where the music states the theme, and the movements are like echoes. Each dancer has a deliberate quality that adds visual interest to various forms of free-flowing movement.

Oxenham's premiere of "Treading Chasms" features Smolen and Heidi Halt in poses that are meant to be etched in time. The two dancers look like photographs waiting to happen. Even their grande jete's have a studied quality and are very nicely done. In one section, they are light and breathy, all long line, as they leap on the stage until one catches the other in an embrace. Then the dance reverts back to its beginning, with one dancer in front of the other, swaying in opposite directions. Lovely.

Quite different is Terry Creach's "Arena," which uses the metaphor of a boxing ring. A rectangular area is lit on stage; the dancers are clad in black and white and begin by pushing, prodding and catapulting over each other. Wary and unstudied, the dancers resemble boxers in an arena. One small nudge leads to a chain reaction of movement with dancers over, under and in between each other.

Halt's section appears like a practice round with no opponent. The dancing is proficient, using high extensions, as is the section with the two men, who use karate-style kicks and lifts. As the music stops the group joins together, arms around each other, intertwined in a visual meaning of limbs.

"Seraphim," Gardner's premiere set to music by Marin Marais, is the most strongly balletic piece she has done in years. Set to a backdrop that resembles angel's wings, this is a pretty dance. Farkas-Sprague, Halt and Smolen move with fluidity and grace, but Daniel Buskirk and Kevin Kimple need to be lighter in sections -- they have very different styles, and this takes away from the ensemble feeling of the dance.

The premiere of Gardner's "Cardinal in Snow," set to original music by Curt Steinzor and the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, features a finely detailed set by Franklin LaVoie. The mood is somber and dark; the dancers personify the poetry, which is discordant and introspective. In each of the eight sections the dancers exemplify the language, moving like winged birds or a stormy sea. It is not always easy to connect the movements to the poetry, yet the music creates an interpretive bridge between anguish and hope, as the dance finally affirms human life.


Pick of the Crop Dance

Spring program featuring four premieres; directed by Elaine Gardner

Special preview performances, Friday in Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College; repeated at 8 o'clock tonight and 3 p.m. tomorrow.

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