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Sewell’s ‘The Bad Plus Us’ is a minus

One might expect James Sewell’s new ballet, “The Bad Plus Us,” set to taped songs by the hot, innovative jazz trio The Bad Plus, to be choreographed using the technique Sewell calls “multiple coordination.”

The trio’s compositions — friendly yet musically discursive, thematically recognizable yet occasionally careering into sonic dissonance — would seem an excellent match to Sewell’s choreographic tendency to transform each dancer’s body a polyvalent expression of physicality. Think the old “pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time” coordination challenge, with each part of the body moving differently.

Curiously, Sewell didn’t go that route, as evidenced last night during the James Sewell Ballet’s 17th-season fall concert. Instead, he overlaid the lively kineticism of the music with a largely soft, smooth, fluid ballet choreography in which the body is a unified whole. There are lots of swinging, arching or windmilling arms, slightly undulating torsos and animal-like nudges, somersaults and handstands.

Sewell breaks it up with a repeating motif of dancers grabbing a foot. One might suddenly bend over and grab her own foot, with an expression of goofy “Where am I? What am I doing?” Or a dancer will caress a foot another dancer has thrust through her legs (rather phallic, that). Or one of the men will lift one of the women as she extends her leg straight up in the air with foot pointed.

The whole group goes a little chaotic at the end, in illustration of the music. The dancers also wrap each other up in saran wrap: In fact, the set comprises sheets of clear and black plastic. In short, head-shakingly bizarre.

The program also includes Sewell’s 1996 “Moving Works,” in which the dancers — in single-color leotards — perform choreography of alliterative verticality like a bunch of animated pick-up sticks. Sewell’s bendy floor solo provides a break in the upright action, while co-founder Sally Rousse’s solo has a vernacular touch as she steps over prone dancers and touches their hands.

Rousse’s 1996 solo for herself, “Protective Covering for Pointe and Cello,” is a lovely showcase in which she spikes her lush dancing (a lot of it en pointe) with jagged edges of precarious madness. Laura Sewell performs the cello music by Steve Heitzeg on stage.

And the 2008 “Simple Folk,” by dancer Penelope Freeh, is a sepia-toned study of a family, each of whom becomes a character finely edged through gesture, choreography, costume and props.

Various times, through Sunday, The O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, $10-$32, 651.690.6700.

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