Center of Contemporary Arts

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In addition to providing excellent instruction in many arts areas, the Center of Contemporary Arts -- COCA for short -- brings first-class performing arts, more often than not for children, to the St. Louis region. On occasion its imports come from not that far away. Both the exciting River North Dance Company and last weekend's artists, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, come from the Second City and could drive to St. Louis in an afternoon and dance in the evening if they wanted. When a company comes to COCA, it often spends some time working with COCAdance, the Center's own youthful troupe, whose exciting performances are as worth going to see as those of professional companies, both local and imported.

Much of the performing art offered to children in St. Louis (and elsewhere too, most probably) does not rise to second-rate. Groups organized primarily to fatten themselves on grant money mount recitals and theatrical performances that astonish one with their ignorance, incompetence and condescension. One can understand why relatively few young people show up for a lot of the area's performing art. If what they have had foisted on them represents real music, theater or whatever, of course they're going to stay home and watch MTV. Exceptions, however, exist: Metro Theater Company, for instance. St. Louis dance organizations, Dance St. Louis and COCA (as both a performing institution and an arts presenter) and the St. Louis performing organizations consistently give children inspiring, exciting, meaty art.

The Gus Giordano performance last Friday evening was not a dance recital but a colorful, fast-moving narrated history of jazz dancing. The nine astonishingly good-looking young performers began with African dance and moved steadily forward to Bob Fosse. The numbers were slick, full of attractive attitude and brimming with good cheer.

Considering how much emphasis the narration placed on the African and Afro-American influence on jazz dance, it was surprising that the company had only one black dancer, Devert Hickman, working with them. His compelling style, mixing a technique that couldn't possibly belong to a young fellow less than four years out of high school with the unselfconsciousness of a born performer, would have been outstanding, were not his colleagues as striking as he. The narration was not as sharp or accurate as it ought to have been, and the question session with the dancers after the performance was a bit amateurish as well. The kids in the audience didn't mind. Their intelligent questions were treated respectfully, and the answers were informative both for children and for the adults who accompanied them. It would have been fun to attend the Saturday-evening performance and see the Gus Giordano company dance full-out. In addition, the COCAdance troupe joined them for a number that had been worked out between them.

But perhaps we can get the company back again -- it's only a few hours' drive, after all, from their home base.

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