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Dance to the music Jazz group, dance troupe plan joint UB program

Joshua Assad is used to people dancing when his band starts to play.

Typically, though, before hitting the dance floor, they warm up at the bar -- not the barre.

So it will be a new experience for Babik when the popular gypsy jazz combo performs this evening with Configuration, a classical dance troupe returning to the University at Buffalo after a debut engagement at New York City's Alvin Ailey Theater.

"We're excited for the opportunity," said Assad, Babik's rhythm guitarist. "This is the first time that we've done any choreographed dance. To play a song note for note is definitely going to be a challenge for us, because all we do is improvise. But it's going to be fun."

Configuration's co-founder thinks so, too. Although the company has shared the stage with musicians before, this is the first time they've joined forces with a jazz group.

"Part of what we want to do is invite other people to contribute," said Joseph Cipolla, a native Western New Yorker who has spent the past several years solidifying Configuration's presence in the region. "[Babik] is very open-minded and into doing new things within the Buffalo area as well. That's how you grow."

Cipolla knew the partnership was destined when he first heard Babik in December, at the group's CD release party. One song they played was particularly close to Cipolla's heart: Django Reinhardt's "Nuage." It's one of six jazz standards excerpted in "No Time Jazz," a ballet included in Configuration's repertoire when Cipolla and wife Catherine Batcheller -- both former principal dancers with Birmingham Royal Ballet -- established the company on Cape Cod in 1999.

Once Babik agreed to perform as guest artists, Cipolla revived "No Time Jazz" for this weekend's concerts. Choreographed by the Yuri Zhukov of the Kirov Ballet, it also includes snippets from such jazz classics as "Take Five" and "Misty."

Babik will only perform with the dancers during "No Time Jazz," though the group will play a couple additional songs to warm up the crowd. The program will also feature "Enredando Sombras," choreographed by Harrison McEldowney and set to the poetry of Pablo Neruda and the music from the film "Il Postino"; Michael Shannon's "Awakenings"; and two pas de deux.

"I think that what Configuration is trying to do is a good fit for what we're trying to do," noted Assad, whose band plays regularly at Allen Street Hardware and the Stillwater. "Expressing yourself through dance and expressing yourself through music go hand in hand."

Assad and Cipolla hope their partnership will bolster their respective bases, making classical dance fans out of jazz aficionados and vice-versa. To that end, they'll encore "No Time Jazz" June 9 and 10, when Configuration presents two performances in Studio Arena Theatre.

"It's going to present a bit of a challenge, because it's a thrust stage, so it's not what dancers are used to," Cipolla said. "But that's what's exciting for me. Gearing our programming to that space is going to be fun. It has an intimacy that's wonderful."

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PREVIEW

WHAT: Configuration Dance

WHEN: 7 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Drama Theatre, University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, North Campus, Amherst

TICKETS: $20; $15 students with ID and seniors

INFO: 645-ARTS or www.ubcfa.org

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