By Sue Langenberg

It was the occasion of Rockford Dance Company\’s 40th Anniversary Ruby Jubilee Gala Performance last night at the Coronado Theatre.
To an enthusiastic house, the stage was set for memories, esteemed guest artists and all the glamour necessary to celebrate the daunting efforts of launching a dance company from nothing.
Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey and RDC\’s artistic director Matthew Keefe proudly opened the mixed program that began with dance and schmoozed into late night at Cliffbreakers Riverside.
Present in the audience was founder Chuck Hoenes who, along with the late Jayne Poor, turned this dream into reality decades ago.
Special guests artists graced the stage as exemplary models of dance-dom. Rockford ballet audiences for amny years have been blessed by the stellar appearances of Venezuelan-born Yumelia Garcia, especially during the \’Nutcracker\’ season where her flawless and lyrical presentation as Sugar Plum Fairy was magic for the holiday.
As a Joffrey Ballet Chicago favorite, Garcia and Ogulcan Borova (also from Joffrey) performed the \’Bedroom Pas de Deux\’ from Le Corsaire, original choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Richard Drigo. It was short, perfection and flawless interaction.
Joffrey star April Daly was featured in \”After the Rain,\” a piece choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and music by Arvo Part. As a home-grown RDC dancer, her work with Miguel Blanco (also from Joffrey) seemed a departure from her natural gift as a regal presence in more classical settings. This modern piece showcased her extraordinary versatility and strength to relate a mood, move by move.
Guest artist Brian Grant, also an RDC home-grown dancer, performed the role of Sigfreid in excepts from Act II of Swan Lake, music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, original choreography by Marius Petipa, staged by Northern Illinois\’ Judith Chitwood and Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe. Grant, now with Dayton Ballet, danced his way in home territory to showcase his growth as an artist. Marcia Hetrick (also from Dayton Ballet) brought technical distinction to the classic as well. Together, they were most convincing.
Impressively strong dancer Britanny Keefe performed in an engaging work, \”Chair Bones,\” with music by Edgar Myer and choreography by Arturo Fernandez.
There were special guest choreographers as well. Former RDC artistic director Margaret Faust was invited to bring the first movement of her \”Symphonic Dances,\” with flowing music by Sergei Rachmaninov. Featuring a corps of nine dancers, the piece was classy and well within the abilities of the girls so that the hovering arc of actual choreography was the main attraction, rather than individual snippets of dancers doing steps. This ability is a signature gift of Faust\’s good work.
Other guest choreographers included Maria Castello and Jacques Saint-Cyr in \”La Yumba,\” a saucy tango to the music of Osvaldo Pugliese. New Yorker Jennifer Lott brought her \”Le Mystere,\” with music by the hynotic and most dance-worthy Bulgarian Women\’s Choir. Also, \”Forty,\” music by St. Germain and Lykke Li was choreographed by Karen Graham as a collaborative effort with RDC dancers.
Artistic director Keefe also worked his creative efforts in addition to the direction and concept of the entire program. \”Cooking Session,\” music by Charles Mingus, was a whimsical idea and \”Interwoven (For Jayne),\” music by Nigel Kennedy and the Kroke Band, danced a moving tribute to the founder, though a bit unclear in execution. Notable RDC dancer was Mitchell Stolberg, an eye-catching presence with natural moves and well-trained style.
Mixed programs sometimes call for mixed reviews. It was a show held together soley by strong guests from elsewhere. While on one hand, stars from afar are the icing on the cake, on the other, there must be a cake to begin with. After forty years, there yet seems a company of lackluster accomplishment within. Instability in the school and direction is often to blame, especially if there is a revolving door of staff in these days of funding shortages.
Despite the army of wonderful parents and volunteers to keep moving (literally), it still has that same look of a company that doesn\’t know what it wants to be along with misguided board decisions about how to get there.
Let us move(literally) forward in a more focused path to dance the full potential of Rockford Dance Company.