Avaz International Dance Theater's "Urban Rhythms" Saturday night at Luckman Theatre buried many of the company's new and old works in a mixed-bag program heavy on guest artists and soft on focus. The program combined Middle Eastern and Latin dances and included two orchestra-only pieces that could have used dancers to enhance their polyrhythmic, mono-dynamic punch.
The successful premiere of "Iran," a 19th century court dance choreographed by Avaz director Anthony Shay and costumed by company member Jamal, featured four women in lushly layered costumes with bejeweled headpieces. Intricately wavy arm and hand movements and simple head tilts accompanied graceful gliding footwork amid the swirling of skirts. Dancer Yayoi and Shadiar Ohadi particularly embodied the regal spirit of the dance.
Also successful was Shay's Uzbekistan-Samarqand "Court Dance." In Shay's spoken commentary, he pointed out that much folk dance comes from the wrong side of the tracks, but with its sextet of gold-robed women snapping their fingers to Jamal's frame drum solo, this work obviously was from the right side of the tracks.
Alberto Toledano and Loreen Arbus, the artistic backbone of Ritmo Tango, made poor use of the stage in choreography that was uninspired and not particularly well danced. With tango, one longs for passion, drama, deep dips and razor-sharp movements. Extended periods of silence marked repetitive numbers, where couples made bland entrances and exits.
Guest artist Roberto Amaral, however, of locally based Fuego Flamenco, brought sensuality and seething energy to his every movement. Whether dancing the lighter cante chico (with his able partner, La Conja), or mesmerizing the nearly full house with the more dramatic cante jondo, Amaral, who was accompanied by Pedro Cortes' excellent guitar work and the soulful singing of Charo Monge, sparked the otherwise uneven program into life.
"Urban Rhythms" had the rhythm thing going, but it needed to concentrate on higher levels of sophistication, integration and finesse. "Urbane Rhythms" might have been preferable.