American Folk Ballet, Southern Utah State College Spectrum, Cedar City. Performances at 2 and 8 p.m., Aug. 11-20. Phone box office for reservations and program information: 586-7872. Tickets $6-$9 for adults, $5-$7.50 for children under 12. Free tickets available for children, courtesy of Marriner Eccles Foundation.
There's something special in Cedar City this summer - in addition to the Shakespearean Festival. And it's well worth trying to fit into your schedule this week.It's Burch Mann's American Folk Ballet - a unique form of dance with songs and narration added, offering an artistic glimpse of history. The disciplined, versatile dancers make the demanding technique look easy and maintain their energy despite doing three shows in rotation. It's obvious these people really love what they're doing.
Former "Little House on the Prairie" actor Kevin Hagen brings a beautifully written script to life with a range of dialects. This is art with broad appeal - and it certainly deserves much larger audiences in the cavernous Spectrum than it had its first two days.
The company of 24 is presenting "The Prairie Years," "The Old South" and "The Texas Breed" during its second summer season in the Festival City. Performances include matinees on days when they won't conflict with Shakespeare plays, plus shows every night.
"The Prairie Years" is the strongest of the three shows and has the best balance of dancing, singing and narration. Although the opening night's audience didn't immediately warm to the graceful "Indian Suite," they were pulled into the rest of the program with the lively steps and acrobatics of "Wagon Train."
Choice of music is important, and it's well chosen here, from droning harmonica to foot-stompin' fiddle. Songs are an integral part of this show, and vocalists David Azure, Julianne Crofts, Jacqueline Taylor-Sutton, Michael Anderson and Chris Church add much. The quintet's harmony and vitality is especially notable in the spirited "Camp Meeting" number, which was an audience favorite.
The stoic, no-nonsense Scottish dance contrasts wonderfully with the frivolity of the Irish pieces. The all-out hoedown spirit of "Party at Grandpa Wharton's" is a fitting finale to "The Prairie Years."
Friday's matinee performance of "The Deep South" never quite came together, partially because of a nervous technical crew. Long lags with nothing happening should be corrected by now. The river baptizing scene has an exciting Pentecostal flavor to it. Overall, though, the mood of this program is slow - waltzes, soft ballads, blues (admirably sung by Taylor-Sutton) and early jazz dances.
Poor-quality recordings that sounded like scratched records were extremely bothersome, and the warmth inside the Spectrum caused the audience to be restless. It didn't help that popcorn and hotdogs were being sold in the hallway, and people were actually eating them during the performance. Tacky, tacky!
"The Texas Breed" displays the influence of Catholicism, Mexico, European immigrants and ranchers in different numbers. "The Streets of Laredo" is especially good, with music, dance and song blending in graceful drama. The audience loved guest artist Roy Fitzell's flamboyant dance as the Spanish Don. This program could be livened up, though, with more dancing and less explanation.
Director Mann, who now lives in Cedar City after moving the company's educational activities to the college six years ago, said she wanted to create "A dance form that reveals the character and spirit of its people" and bridges the gap between popular taste and the connoisseur.
With her American Folk Ballet, she's succeeded. See it in Cedar City this week, it's something else.