Raising the Barre
The Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble keeps audiences on their toes during this year’s Fall Dance Concert.
Dallas — An athletic contemporary piece, a Twyla Tharp-inspired solo, an Antony Tudor favorite and a playful classical Jazz piece made for a stylistically pleasing and emotionally taxing Friday evening at the Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble’s 2013 Fall Dance Concert at the school’s Bob Hope Theater.
The extremely diverse program challenged the dancers physically and mentally. In some instances they succeeded while others left us wanting a little more.
The most entertaining piece of the night was Cathy Young’s Jack Cole-inspired Zero Cool (1998), set to Duke Ellington’s La Plus Belle Africaine (excerpt), Oclupaca, Tina, Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues) and Malletoba Spank. The dim lighting, evocative music and red-and-black costuming was reminiscent of the smoky club scene in the movie Singin’ in the Rain (1952) as Cyd Charisse danced for Gene Kelly.
The dance featured five ladies and four men performing a number of shoulder rolls, hip swirls and body isolations as they strutted through a series of intricate pattern changes. There were also a few Bob Fosse moves sprinkled in, including his signature wrist flicks and pelvis tilts, which made sense as Fosse was also an admirer of Cole’s work. Social dances like the Twist and Pony were also mixed in.
Young’s knack for capturing every instrument’s sound through her movement created an air of anticipation of what will the dancers do next. For most of the piece the dancers were performing two tasks at once. For example, strutting across the floor and isolating their ribcage, or bouncing their knees and flicking their wrists. Even with the fast tempo the dancers never missed a beat. And of course the number wouldn’t have been complete without the performers’ fun-loving attitudes.
Joshua L. Peugh’s new work PICK-UP contained some carefree moments but that is where the similarities with Young’s piece end. While the stage had very little dressing and the 12 dancers were dressed in basic white/black lace tops and black bottoms, the same cannot be said about Peugh’s choreography. His movement has a primitive quality to it. He’d rather his dancers hunch their shoulders and travel on all fours. There was even a moment when the dancers had to bite their own arm. Peugh’s characteristic twisty/curvy floor work and subtle yet inventive partnering also came through in the piece. His music choices ranged from Dave Brubeck, Johann Hermann Schein and Kyu Sakamoto to Dinah Washington and deadman5. Peugh is definitely making his voice heard in the Dallas dance community.
Former Twyla Tharp dancer John Selya choreographed a visually interesting solo performed this evening by dancer Emily Alexa Perry entitled “…ain’t confidential.” Using a single stage floor light Perry performed a series of arching angular movements that appeared to travel only on a linear plane to the mellow musings of Bill Callahan’s “Ride My Arrow.” Tharp dancers are known for their athleticism and groundedness, which showed in Perry’s deep plies and controlled spins. The image of a computer keyboard projected on the background with the keys blinking in time to the music and a digital clock counting the length of the solo added dimensions to the otherwise 2-D piece.
The restaging of Antony Tudor’s famous Dark Elegies lacked some of the emotional punch inherent in its 1937 debut, but it did feature some exquisite ballet technique and emotionally powerful solo performances by Aubry Neal and Alex Druzbanski. The piece depicts the rituals of a community following the death of its children. The dim lighting, muted blue and maroon costumes and music by Gustav Mahler entitled Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) reinforced their feelings of loss.
Tudor was a real disciplinarian when it came to technique, so all the dancers’ lines were uniformed and appeared as snapshots pasted together. The dancers’ slow and deliberate walking was punctuated with reaching arms and lengthy arabesque holds. While some of the dancers need to work on projecting their emotions a little more, everyone gave a quality performance in the last scene when the community came together to heal.
The SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble put on a captivating and diverse performance that only proves today’s dancers need to be even more versatile if they want to pursue dance professionally. And hopefully when that day comes they will choose to start their career in Dallas.
This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.