Baroque nobility dancing the minuet, Polynesian natives performing ritual dances, a crowd of American teens dancing the electric slide at a prom .... what do all of these groups have in common? They are all dancing! Indeed, since the beginnings of recorded history, dance has served as an important cultural expression throughout the world. Not only has it served important religious and ceremonial purposes, but it also has served as an important form of enjoyment coming in a variety of forms. This year, Maestra Barbara Schubert, conductor of 2007 Illinois Community Orchestra of the Year DuPage Symphony, has decided to choose dance as the theme for the orchestra's 57th concert season and hence commemorate the importance of dance in society. Appropriately, the orchestra's first concert on October 9th featured an outstanding, dance-themed concert complete with an eclectic mix of classical favorites and special guests from Berlioz to authentic Indian traditional dancers from the Chicago-based Natya Dance Theater.

This concert was absolutely the perfect opener to the orchestra's season, magnificently tying in with DuPage Symphony's theme of the year. As advertised on both the Internet and on the orchestra's website, the concert featured outstanding selections, opening with Berlioz's stellar symphony orchestra transcription of Weber's playful "Invitation to the Dance" and culminating with Berlioz's own bizarre yet equally awesome perennial program music favorite, Symphonie Fantastique. In both, the all-volunteer orchestra -- truly outstanding in quality and playing ability -- sparkled to its fullest, eloquently bringing out each mood within the piece and thrillingly crescendoing from the most subtle pianissimo to the most deafening fortissimo. Maestra Schubert enthusiastically directed from the podium, demonstrating her signature energy in both body language and her craft. No doubt the orchestra benefited greatly from her passionate direction. The violins gracefully glided over the smooth runs in the Weber as if graceful dancers were actually before them, and the bassoons belted out the strains of the "Dies Irae" in the final movement of the Berlioz with much gusto to the point I could actually see all Hell unleashed -- devils, witches, and so forth -- in front of my own eyes. Just perfect for upcoming Halloween!

The highlight of the entire performance, however, was the incorporation of the Natya Dance Theatre's Indian classical dancers into the orchestra's second number on the program: Ravel's ethereal Daphnis et Chloe Suite #2. In line with North Central College's focus on India this year, Maestra Schubert masterfully blended the East with the West in this stellar collaboration -- which she acknowledged was indeed difficult to conjure. Since Western music contains almost nothing that would truly fit in with Indian classical dance, Maestra Schubert selected the closest possible selection in Daphnis et Chloe, since the Indian culture is rich in religious myths not too unlike the ancient Greek myths from which Ravel's ballet and subsequent music is drawn. In turn, the director of the Natya Dance Theater choreographed an Indian classical dance rendition of the ancient Greek story within Ravel's ballet. The result -- complete with the orchestra's delicate rendition of Ravel's music and the Natya Dance Theater's authentically-clad, graceful female dancers -- was absolutely gorgeous and touching. Indeed, as evidenced by the audience's overwhelming reaction at the conclusion of this portion of the concert, Maestra Schubert once again captured the audience's hearts in reaching out to all cultures and demonstrating classical music's timeless appeal to people around the world regardless of culture, creed, etc. Overall, comparing this concert to other DuPage Symphony concerts that I have attended in the past, this one was by far the most outstanding, and based upon this outstanding season opener, I am most eager to see what is in store for the rest of the orchestra's dance-themed season.