It seemed like a high-stepping, hip-shaking reunion Friday when dozens of dancers took to the stage of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center for "Steps to the Soul," the latest incarnation of the Praxis Project. Founded in 1999 by wife and husband Kacy and Craig Keys, the project unites the local dance community each summer through workshops, master classes and performing opportunities.
This year's concert (which repeated Saturday) featured nine works by eight choreographers, many of whom have been with Praxis (Greek for "practice") since its inception, including Janice Garrett, Frit and Frat Fuller and Ronald E. Brown. Other folks on the bill -- Shari Rhone and Seda Aybay -- were familiar Praxis participants.
The Fullers' ebullient work "After Hours" featured 15 dancers of varying sizes and shapes in va-va-voom mode. Unison moves exploded into soaring spins and skittering galore, with 13-year-old Marcella Lewis' solo a jolt of joy. Also upbeat and African-influenced: Garrett's 2002 "Hither Thither" (restaged by Kacy Keys, who also danced) offered a female quartet rooted to the floor while making the most of arched backs, raised arms and wagging heads.
More African motifs and a Langston Hughes poem pumped up "Sankofa (Return and Get It)," choreographed by Pat Taylor and marvelously performed by her JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble. Peppered with soaring jumps, solid unisons and pulsating solos, duets and trios, this work proved both wistful and inspiring.
Two lovely solos gave the evening a more intimate quality: Aybay's "O," performed by the choreographer, featured her moving adroitly with an umbrella; and "Nacer de Nuevo," choreographed and danced by the statuesque, Grecian gown-clad Jill Brammer Ware. Looking like Andrew Wyeth's "Helga" come to life, Brammer Ware assumed an array of floor poses before rising, her unfolding arms an invitation to beauty.
Group numbers continued to prevail this year, however -- not all successfully. Rhone's "Because I Feel Like It" featured a female quintet in ill-fitting stretch pants, the jazzy moves random and chaotic, while Lowell Smith's "Moody Mozart" was akin to Ballet 101, its six dancers struggling throughout. Scott Putman's "Small Corners in Dark Spaces" featured a trio of women sliding and cavorting on the floor aimlessly, while Brown's "Heroes Behind Shadows," an octet set to music by Philip Glass and John Adams, provided Miko Doi-Smith with a muscular solo amid an unrelenting frenzy of pliés, intertwined arms and crouching gambits.
Taylor's lively "Mileage -- Chasing the One," completed a program that gave dance a mostly ecstatic face.