Intricate lighting, Illusions and props take center stage at this year’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Dance Concert.
Dallas — Light played a pivotal role, literally and metaphorically, at this year’s Fall Dance Concert presented by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The Bob Hope Theatre on the SMU Campus was packed Friday night for the preimere of Christopher Dolder’s Handle as well as works by Bob Fosse, Adam Hougland and Alex Sanchez.
In past viewings The Meadows Dance Ensemble has proved itself to be a versatile and resilient group of dancers with a high level of professionalism. The pieces chosen for this year’s program challenged the dancers to take on multiple roles from lighting and prop mover to singer and hat trickster. This generation of dancers must know about all aspects of the performance and these students are well on their way.
The program opens with Dolder’s kaleidoscopic work Handle with music by Andhim, Eduardo Castillo, Fabricio Cavero, Farfan Herman Hupfeld, Moby, Thomas Newman and Avro Part. Through special lighting techniques, video projection, costuming and permeable walls, Dolder takes the public’s perception of what dance should look like and flips it on its head. One faceless dancer in a white body suit performs a series of wavy, bird-like movements before appearing to freeze in mid-air and being absorbed into one of the two 10-foot-tall permeable walls (one black and one white). On the white wall, two dancers covered head-to-toe in black emerge from the wall and perform a horizontal duet consisting of high upper back arches and gentle push and pull movements before disconnecting themselves from their tethers.
The piece climaxes during the dogfight where four couples take turns whipping and tugging at one another aided by the handles sewn into their costumes. The movement is grounded and concaved, evidence of Dolder’s extensive knowledge of Graham technique. This is also the first time we see the dancers’ faces and we are able to see them as humans versus objects. Even with all the added elements, the piece has a clear beginning, middle and end with the take away message being to handle each other and our environment with care.
Hougland’s To the Fore also incorporates unique lighting techniques, but in this piece it’s the dancers controlling the light. Four work lights attached to long extension cords capture the four female dancers as they explode onto the stage in a series of quick bourree steps, saute jumps and turns on pointe. As the dancers approach their light it is suddenly pulled away, placing them in shadow. Four men appear and trail the light along their partner’s body as they bend and contort into different shapes. While the extension cords were intended to be props in their own right, obstacles around which dancers had to maneuver, at times they distracted from the dancers’ athletic quality of movement.
Hougland displays his talent for narratives in his second piece Cigarettes, set to different versions of the song “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” by Patsy Cline, Pickin’ On, Georgette Dee & Terry Truck, Smokers Die Younger and k.d. lang. The story describes a woman’s encounter with three different men and the affect she has on them. Kelsey Rohr was exquisite in this role. Her matured body awareness enables her to move easily from luxurious back stretches and weightless leaps to frantic gesturing and leaded walks. On this night, Zachery Biel, Christopher Dorsey and Dexter Green displayed their prowess in a series of acrobatic moves and tricky lifts with Rohr.
The evening closes with Alex Sanchez’s homage to Bob Fosse. The work is split into three sections that represent different periods of accomplishment in his life. Fosse’s admiration for Fred Astaire is evident through the white socks with back shoes and slacks, wide-rim hats and tight arm movements in Dancin’ Man. No big jumps or multiple pirouettes, just clean, staccato hat tricks and rhythmic walking. The loss of a hat did break the Illusion for a moment and brings up the question whether a dancer should ever retrieve a lost prop or just keep on going. In this instance they went with the lather.
Reid Conlon, Hope Endrenyi and Reid Frye did a commendable job in Fosse’s classic “Steam Heat.” Dressed in black suits and bowler hats, the trio nailed the Fosse shoulder isolations and turned-in foot work. The hat flips and traveling knee spins were big crowd pleasures. The men shone in the final section with their elongated runs, knee bobs and shimmies to the upbeat notes of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” While the angels’ balletic movements in between the sections don’t seem to add much to the work, the image of the hat bathed in a single spotlight at the very beginning is certainly arresting. Having everyone lip-sync the peppy show tunes also adds more authenticity to the piece.
This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.