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No lack of compassion with this dance troupe

Love, longing, horsewhips -- Configuration Dance offered something for everyone Friday evening.

Except hockey and global warming, that is.

Surely the Buffalo Sabres and Al Gore -- both playing to capacity crowds the same night -- had something to do with the meager turnout at this performance. No matter. Even with fewer than 200 in attendance the joint was jumpin', thanks to the buoyant rhythms of the jazz combo Babik and Configuration's free-spirited classicism.

The band took the stage for Yuri Zhukov's "No Time Jazz," a toe-tapping tribute to the intoxicating combination of music, cocktails and dancing cheek to cheek.

That last part's a feat when your partner's clenching a stogie in his teeth. In this ballet, a cigar is definitely more than a cigar: It's passed so deftly between Raul Peinado and partner Laura Feig that it's practically a scene-stealer.

Zhukov's ballet is divided into five sections, three duets sandwiched between the ensemble's opening and closing numbers. Each couple embodies a type: Sarah Jane Taylor's sexy romp with Kirk Henning illustrates a pair that runs hot and cold. Wyatt Barr and Catherine Batcheller offer a comical take on the pursuer and the pursued. And at the end of the night, the gang reassembles for a disheveled chorus line, strutting with giddy lassitude.

Harrison McEldowney's "Endredando Sombras" offers a more elevated take on love, but it's just as uninhibited. Set to the poetry of Pablo Neruda and the score to the movie "Il Postino, the ballet offers a sinewy interplay between words, movement and music.

Although the timing was problematic in several group sections, the concept fared better in intimate formations. Especially appealing were the sensuous swirls of Batcheller, dancing in a nude leotard behind a translucent sheet.

"Awakenings" was a gracefully executed ballet in search of a theme. A dance for four couples, Michael Shannon's choreography tries too hard for note-for-note interpretation of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring." Elegance abounds in the partnering, but the change in tone is jarring. When the female dancers pulled out horsewhips and cheerfully swatted their partners' behinds, I was tempted to head to Alumni Arena for the former veep's slide show on the polar ice cap.

The two pas de deux of the evening were studies in intensity. "Lascia la spina, Cogli la Rosa" juxtaposes the high art of Handel's aria with the primacy of movement: overhead presses, bodies intertwined, a dead man's hang at the end. It was an ideal vehicle for the athleticism of Rebecca Carmazzi and Sasha Jones.

"Crumbling," by Edgar Zendejas and performed with Batcheller and Olivier Wecxsteen, features angular positions that complement the twangy score. Like everything else on the program, there's no lack of passion here.

The only difference is that it's a more desperate form of it. It should be noted that Configuration performed only once in New York City during the current tour, a fact lamented in its favorable review by the New York Times.

However, the dancers reprise their program locally at 2 p.m. Sunday.

At least they won't have to compete with Gore.

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Dance Review

Configuration Dance

Friday night in UB Center for the Arts, Amherst. Another performance at 2 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 645-ARTS or visit www.ubcfa.org.

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