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Maude Baum’s dance ensemble honors Duncan’s timeless gems

Maude Baum’s dance ensemble honors Duncan’s timeless gems

Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre celebrated the mother of modern dance, Isadora Duncan, in a pro

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For Gazette arts writer Brian McElhiney's preview of this show, click here.

Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre celebrated the mother of modern dance, Isadora Duncan, in a program that spans the spectrum of human emotions. In its afternoon salon showing on Sunday at the eba Theatre, Baum’s sextet of dancers and pianist Garrett Smelcer unleashed feelings ranging from elation to rage — conditions that dancer-maker Duncan so honestly captured.

Certainly, the iconoclast intended to provoke and incite with her dances that were revolutionary for their time. She and her dancers skipped about barefoot and draped themselves in sheer silk tunics, revealing legs and arms that 100 years ago, when these dances were made, was scandalous. Yet what Duncan might not have anticipated is how these dances — many coupled with Chopin — endure. In the right hands, and feet, these dances are timeless gems. Certainly, Baum’s ensemble does them justice.

It isn’t easy. To dance Duncan pieces, the dancer must throw out formal training and try to achieve a natural, organic form. (Affections are ingrained and very difficult to shed.) Baum’s dancers must romp as children, float like fairies and, when need be, stomp and claw like angry Furies. And they do, embodying Duncan’s idea that the body and its movement are the vessels and expression of emotions.

Baum’s company frequently dances these works, which have been staged by Duncan devotee Jeanne Bresciani. But this time around, new works were added to Baum’s Duncan repertory: “Knucklebones” and “The Blue Danube.” “Knucklebones” re-enacts a game with stones and sheep bones. In this short piece, the dancers mime playing the game. It’s cute, but doesn’t have the power of the Chopin dances.

“The Blue Danube,” to a Strauss waltz, is the company’s most elegant Duncan creation. Four, dressed as if going to a ball, run and skip joyously. (No waltzing.) This work was satisfying as it touches upon what is so likeable about Duncan’s work: its ability to conjure ecstasy.

The best works were the beloved Chopin dances that Baum’s troupe has been performing for nearly 20 years. As Smelcer vigorously thundered away at the baby grand, the dancers cavorted through “Valse Brilliante” and “Mazurka #1.” They also demonstrated their might in “Revolutionary Etude” and “Polonaise Militaire.” In the etude, Mary Beth Hampshire was fierce as she flung her hair about and pounded her tethered fist against the floor. And in the Polonaise, Katie Newhall personified might as she summoned her warriors with conviction. Her strength and beauty were inspirational.

Maude Baum and Company Dance Theatre will repeat this program at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the eba Theatre, 351 Hudson Ave., Albany. More information and reservations are available at 465-9916.

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