It's rare these days to find jazz dance that avoids show-bizzy audience courting, in-your-face technique and sexual salesmanship, but Danny Buraczeski's nine-member Jazzdance company from the Twin Cities proved a grand exception in its program at Pepperdine University on Sunday.
Lots of groups perform '40s-style big-band ballets, for instance, but Buraczeski's 1993 "Swing Concerto" postponed the inevitable jitterbugging long enough to raise a potent sociocultural issue. Making a statement about heritage, he began this full-company suite with a buoyant Eastern European-style solo danced to the wail of klezmer music--with the transition to familiar recordings by Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw nearly undetectable.
The issue of heritage also shaped Buraczeski's 1993 gospel suite "On My Way" and, to a lesser extent, his salsa showpiece, "Fuerza Viva," from the same year. Developing smoothly out of walking passages, each of these large-scale abstractions sustained high-energy attacks without losing their dignity and revealed a sophisticated sense of structure. So even when pop and ballroom steps dominated Buraczeski's movement vocabulary, the result looked like concert dance, not numbers from a Broadway musical.
Buraczeski clearly doesn't trust stillness and has no use for lyricism, so even his 1995 love duet "Les Exiles," to ballads by Kurt Weill, depended on whirlwind partnering gambits and a restless emotionalism. The hyperactivity sometimes threatened to become numbing--especially in "On My Way" and the "Swing Concerto" finale--but the dancers dug deeply enough into the movement and music to keep you involved.
Artful production values also helped: the atmospheric lighting designs by Barry Browning, the glitz-free costumes by Mary Hansmeyer and, in "On My Way, " a backdrop by Susan Weil that set gleaming cutouts of birds and leaves against a glowing star-scape. The dancers stayed faultless, and tireless, all evening long, with the tiny Maria Lynne Vignone and the lanky Mark McGowan particularly appealing.