A dance company with a difference - that's the Cleo Robinson Dancers. Throughout a long program of vigorous dances, they never lost their bouncing vitality or charisma that comes right across the proscenium to grab you.
They are a group of black individualists who have clearly been trained to put out, both as entertainers and artists, and they give a show full of inimitable rhythm and uninhibited movement. Yet a certain restraint and refinement underlies their style, which pleasingly balances between the warmth of their ethnic roots and the coolness of classic training."Scattin," choreographed by Robinson, is an ideal opener for these dancers, a pure entertainment piece that allowed each dancer to invite the audience in for a show of cheeky personality and peppy, jivey movement. Music by Bobby McFerrin, sometimes with accompaniment, sometimes just his own wide-ranging lexicon of noises, perfectly fit every movement of this piece.
"Dancin' with my Chick-Hen" was a cute number for a pair of hepcats in a kind of jitterbug version of meeting and courting, punctuated by more than one involuntary movement borrowed from the barnyard fowl - lighthearted and tongue in cheek. And the closing "Dancin' with my Bass" was a vital jam session of high energy for the whole ensemble.
In "Mama Rose," a solo by Keith Lee inspired by a poem that moved him, Marceline Freeman danced the indomitable spirit of the black woman, with power and vibrant emotional communication.
I did miss seeing at least one lyric, slow work on a program that kept pounding away at a pitch of high intensity.
"Araignee" by company member Gary Abbott showed Lisa Johnson and Eddy Talton in a remarkable display of arachnid posturing and tensile movement, often with amazing acrobatics and balances, building up to a contest of strength in front of a giant projected web, eventually won by the female of the species. Those who don't like spiders probably found this realistic dance disquieting and even threatening.
"Pronouncement and Conclusion," a world premiere, offered the arresting choreography of Donald Byrd to a synthesizer score by Mio Morales - a brilliant, showy dance of several movements, most of them with a jazzy base, that began with the company in tableau, then exiting and coming back in various combinations, often with spectacular and daring movements.
The dance is au courant, stylish and entertaining, but like its title, a little ambiguous. It had an interesting ending, which appeared to be a sort of coda or afterthought, with two men and a girl in black in a kind of star wars segment.
"Raindance" by Milton Myers, set to music of Jean Michel Jarre, is a lovely dance for the full company of 13 in billowing red skirts. It's reminiscent of the Jose Limon/Doris Humphrey era, with an underlying, compulsive rhythm that pulled the dancers along on a tide of momentum, and stylistic stances and ritual movements that somehow have a more South American than African flavor.
The whole thing flowed beautifully as duet yielded to quartet, to trio, to sextet, and all wound up in a blue-lit silhouette as thunder rumbled and rain came. It's the company's signature piece, and an exciting one.
Before the program started, Cleo Parker Robinson expressed pleasure at being back in Salt Lake City, where the 20-year-old company has not visited since the early '70s. The dancers appeared during the past summer at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., and have been invited to perform in the Soviet Union.