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PERFORMING ARTS

-- Gail Wein

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor Charles Dutoit is cool -- dangling the baton like a cigarette between his fingers in a delicate passage. Dutoit is emphatic -- the stick gripped in his fist, drawing bold strokes like Picasso's paintbrush. Dutoit is balletic -- practically pirouetting to enhance a syncopated section. The audience at George Mason University experienced this artistry firsthand Friday as Dutoit led the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The orchestra's rendition of Mozart's Symphony No. 39 floats to the top of the current slew of Mozart performances in celebration of the master's 250th birthday this week. Despite the orchestra's large size for such a work, it managed to sound light and precise while maintaining a commanding presence. But the ending was cursory. Dutoit leapt off the podium to congratulate the concertmaster and take his bow before letting the final chord ring, depriving the audience of that glorious hang time with which to absorb the music.

Jean Sibelius's melodies unfolded with momentum in the first movement of his Symphony No. 2. The winds rang clearly over the strings with rhapsodic solos, though their timbres were not always well blended. The third movement flung past at a speed that made the lyrical passages sound all the more serene. But in the recapitulation, the orchestra failed to keep up and verged on sloppiness.

The evening began with a note-perfect but rather routine reading of Sibelius's "Karelia" Suite. Dutoit's facility for balancing contrapuntal sections of the orchestra was evident as he pitted bassoons against flutes, cellos against violins, violas against clarinets to bring out the colors of the ensemble.

-- Gail Wein

'Black Expressions -- Dance!!!'

"Black Expressions -- Dance!!!" brought together new and familiar tappers as well as West African and modern dancers Saturday at Lisner Auditorium. Technical skills varied widely, but the show succeeded in its purpose. It voiced a multitude of ways in which artists in the black community express themselves through dance.

The sparkler of the evening was Savion Glover protege Ayodele Casel's "Diary of a Tap Dancer," in which this generous-spirited 29-year-old shared her stage time with up-and-coming tappers Jason Bernard, Warren Craft and Michelle Dorrance. One by one, they stepped in a downstage pool of light to dance to a recorded spoken accompaniment that mined their life stories for content, playing with the cadence and rhythm of the words, marking conclusions, filling up pauses, accenting important points.

Troy Powell, who teaches at New York's Ailey School and is resident choreographer for Ailey II, brought four elegant young men with balletic, open lines to perform "Wonderful" and "Journey," works he created for his newly founded Ascension Dance Theatre. Powell's choreography is elegant like his dancers -- LeNorris Evans, Josh Johnson, Ephraim Sykes and Brittain Jackson. A swan dive up to the ceiling-stretched arms of three companions drew a collective gasp from the audience.

On the more experimental side, Onye Ozuzu's solos "A Pale Logic" and "Totem" drew on West African dance, Japanese and Chinese martial arts and butoh. Ozuzu, based at the University of Colorado, successfully fused these styles through the force of personality. She's supremely confident, and her brashness is part of the appeal.

Also on the program were two local companies, the all-male Edgeworks Dance Theater and its take on breaking down stereotypes ("Melting the Edges" and "Bitter"), and Coyaba Dance Theater, whose "Queens of Dance Hall" closed the evening with West African dance with a contemporary edge.

-- Pamela Squires


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