Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble is composed of particularly arresting dancers. In the first moments of their performance Saturday, it was clear that each is highly musical and capable of moving with utmost clarity and efficiency.
Those talents were discernible throughout their program at Dance Place. But across five works by five choreographers, the dancers were inconsistent in their ability to inject emotional revelation into the performances.
The shortcoming was most evident in “Fusion,” a 2012 work by Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus. The dance has the potential to be a knockout, but it doesn’t hit as hard as it could because the performers seem to be approaching it from different emotional realms. Some look exultant and joyful as they spring to a stag leap, arms stretched high to the heavens. Others are fearsome and forceful, seeming with the same gesture to be begging for answers rather than offering praise. Such disparities prevented the work from packing the wallop it might have.
Character shortcomings also weighed down an excerpt from Gary Abbott’s “Sweet ‘Ree.” In this lovers’ duet to set to Aretha Franklin’s melancholic but romantic “Somewhere,” dancers Edgar L. Page and Amelia Dietz didn’t quite have the chemistry that would make the work simmer. Still, it was pleasant to watch, thanks to Dietz’s breezy elegance and Page’s ability to seamlessly scoop her into simple but whimsical lifts.
The chemistry deficit in that piece, though, was more than compensated for in a series of duets excerpted from “For the Love of . . .” by choreographer Nejla Y. Yatkin.
Here, each dancer seemed to connect to his or her partner in a way that was deeply authentic and deftly calibrated. One pair, Roxanne Young and Chris E. Page, created the kind of love connection that each of us craves: When they embraced each other, it was tender; when they nuzzled noses and cheeks, it was sensual; and when she fell into his arms, it was with an unflinching sense of trust.
“Raindance,” a 1984 work by Milton Myers, doesn’t call for complex character development, but it does come with the challenge of fusing steps from jazz, modern and African dance styles into one movement idiom. The synthesizer-heavy score makes this work seem a bit dated, but the dancers managed to keep it interesting with crisp execution and pert attitude.
The evening’s final piece was an excerpt from “Star of the Show,” a dance by Jeffrey Page about James Brown’s life and set to his music. The snippet was intriguing, largely because Devin Baker was so committed and vibrant in the role of Brown. But it was hard to fully make sense of the action without the context of the full-length work.