Rock opera, dance take over Pascal Center stage in separate shows

On two recent evenings, Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center for Performing Arts offered audiences a historic look at 45 years of rock opera one night and an extraordinary display of dance talents on another.

"The History of Rock Opera II" was a concert created and directed by Douglas B. Byerly that showcased the talents of AACC Concert Choir and Chamber Singers, accompanied by the AACC Rock Orchestra.

And in "Perpetual Motion," the AACC Dance Company presented an exciting, wide-ranging program coordinated by artistic director Lynda P. Fitzgerald, who established the troupe 21 years ago.

Following the earlier Part 1 concert, "The History of Rock Opera II" covered the genre using a wide range of works. The first song on the program was Green Day's plaintive, primal, anti-war "21 Guns," which begins with the line, "Do you know what's worth fighting for?" It brought new urgency to an old question and gave credence to the critical praise for "American Idiot," currently on Broadway.

An authentic re-creation featuring hippie garb and a bright mood was delivered by the chorus on "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In," both from the 1967 Broadway show "Hair."

Next, the program offered the excitement of "Pinball Wizard" from "Tommy" by Pete Townshend and the Who, its infectious driving beat describing "that deaf, dumb and blind kid" from the 1970 work, and delivered by the vigorous young exponents.

Classic works on the program included "Jesus Christ Superstar," brilliantly sung by Tobias Young and the chorus; "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions," well-delivered by Chris Leabhart, Emily Sergo and Ray Wilson; several "Phantom of the Opera" selections, with special praise due the highly operatic version in formal dress given "Prima Donna"; and selections from "Les Miserables" that included an amusing "Master of the House" stylishly delivered by veteran performer Ed Wintermute and Jennifer Ansara.

The program also included beautifully delivered selections from "Miss Saigon."

Shortly before intermission was another vintage 1970s tune, "The Wall, Part 2" by Pink Floyd, which featured a pulsating beat that added emphasis to the rage behind the lyrics: "We don't need no education/We don't need no thought control/No dark sarcasm in the classroom/Hey, teachers/Leave those kids alone." There in the college environment, I wondered if such liberating sentiments had any relevance to the current students.

Newer works that received expert treatment from soloists, chorus and the orchestra were "Mama Who Bore Me" and "I Believe" from "Spring Awakening" — a recent critical success — and a return to "American Idiot" for the interesting ballad, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," and the raucous title song, plus "Holiday" to conclude the show.

On Dec. 3 and 4, the 23-member AACC Dance Company offered vigorous, athletic interpretations of themed works and lively, witty expressions of others in the "Perpetual Motion" program.

Most appropriately, the program began with the premier of "Indecision," choreographed by Fitzgerald with her hallmarks of delightful wit and delicious mockery of stale classical ballet partnering. Ballerinas were dragged along the floor before turning on their partners, giving back better than they received.

Another fun number was "Monster's Ball," choreographed by gifted AACC dancer Anwar Thomas to the music of Prince.

Immediately before and after intermission, "These Truths" — a fascinating new work by choreographer Vincent E. Thomas — was premiered. In the first segment, seven male dancers expressed hope as well as disillusionment in the fragmented recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — their bodies became more eloquent expressions of determined striving and firmness of purpose than the recorded historical recounting of Tuskegee and Separate but Equal phrases which were juxtaposed against the fragmented sections of the pledge.

Guest musician Erica Cornish's African drumming added major drama and intense primal emotion to the dancers' interpretation of the Thomas work. After intermission, the female version contained more classical dance elements and yet had a certain fluidity of motion not usually associated with classic dance. Most notable was the absolute equal power of male and female dance segments.

Among several outstanding works, special credit must be given to Andre Hinds' sensitive choreography and dancing of "My Side of Normal" with Leonard Williams.

The program ended with Fitzgerald's updated 1985 choreography of "Action/Reaction," danced superbly to the classic jazz of Benny Goodman, who proved timeless enough to have 21st-century relevance.

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