When she danced with the Jazz Tap Ensemble, Camden Richman proved so deeply musical and strikingly thoughtful, so technically polished yet unassuming that she both overpowered and undercut her flashier, shallower colleagues. Now Richman has left the popular, locally based ensemble--and, without her, it offers a far more consistent dance experience than before.

At the Embassy Theatre on Saturday, there seemed nothing much on the minds of dancers Lynn Dally, Fred Strickler or Linda Sohl-Donnell (Richman's replacement) or musicians Jeff Colella, Eric Von Essen and Jerry Kalaf (all three new to the ensemble) than obvious display.

With her rambunctious manner, flyaway hands and abrupt attacks, Dally cultivated the image of enlightened amateur--someone beside herself with the thrill of being onstage, but no pro. Unlike Gregory Hines, though, Dally can't take this calculated roughness anywhere and, though she attempted some expressive tap--the lonely and frustrated floor-drumming in " 'Round Midnight"--it made only a tentative and fitful statement.

Wearing a painted smile, Strickler showcased his virtuosity in one awesomely intricate solo after another. Two of them bore highfalutin' musical titles--"Cadenza," "Tone Poem"--but the choreographies and performances made the titles interchangeable. Indeed, Strickler's sense of musicality remained superficial in every circumstance (and with every accompaniment) Saturday.

By unleashing non-stop balleticisms (including a non-tap sequence full of pointed-toe extensions), Sohl-Donnell came on as the refined, ladylike dancer compared to the earthier Dally. Like Dally's giggles, and Stricker's smirk, however, her classical charm became awfully bland very quickly--and awfully suspect soon after. These dancers know their stuff, but given the ensemble's major limitations of creative ambition, the smug, chic packaging is distinctly unnecessary.

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