Adrain Bolton heads one of the most personable dance troupes around. Its members dance with their hearts, and their whole-souled emotionalism is so honest, one feels one knows them by the end of a concert. When Bolton harnesses and exploits these qualities, he and his dancers provide a cathartic theatrical experience. When he doesn't, one is left watching appealing dancers of unsteady technique floundering in mushy choreography.
The four-part "Blue Love," a collection of dances about the rage, pain and frustration of love gone wrong, was the strongest work Bolton and his company showed at Dance Place Saturday night. Set to a medley of blues songs, this is a tightly constructed series of vignettes. The wittiest, "Getcha Somebody New," pits a man (Ronald Byrd) against his three girlfriends (Charity Bell, Carol Bristol and Susan Jarvis), who can't decide whether they're madder at him or at each other. In "Just for a While," Bolton and Tammy Hurt-Odom, a beautiful woman who is both sturdy and elegant, dance a fight that's frighteningly real.
Bolton, despite his bulk, is an amazingly expressive dancer, with a supple torso, powerful legs and a way of glaring at each member of the audience simultaneously just to make sure he's got your attention. His groove-to-the-music approach to choreography, however, is often made up of little more than high kicks and good intentions. In "Lift Every Voice," a premiere, three couples wave their arms and swing their hips as singer Barbara Jackson belts out the title tune. (Whether live or taped, the music was at a fault level all night.) At the end, they hug her, one by one. His "Innervisions" uses the most spine-tingling, thundering passages from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech as a bridge between Pachelbel's overused Canon and a Stevie Wonder song. Although the text talks about the "brotherhood of man," the nine dancers are all women who spin and turn and spin again, lifting up their arms every time the music swells. His popular "L'Histoire," in which dancers in assorted ethnic costumes shake and boogie to the beat, is similarly simple choreographically, and it seemed redundant on a program where everything was danced at maximum energy.
The other two works were similar in style and approach to Bolton's. "Jason's Rainbow," choreographed by and reconstructed to honor the late Jason Taylor, is a bouncy dance full of exits and entrances and billowing multicolored scarves set to feel-good music by Joe Sample. Peter Romero's "Breaking Grounds," another premiere, is an ambitious attempt to tackle Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, but it looked as if Romero was trying to follow the rules for choreographing a "pure dance" ballet without quite understanding them. This dance for six women, three men and a central couple reacts to the sound rather than the structure of the music.
Bolton's dances are intended as entertainment, and the audience certainly found them so. The emotional interchange between the dancers and the overflow crowd was electric. But the smiles and sweat of the dancers are what sell the dances, not the other way around.