Denton — Within the growing DFW dance scene, it’s easy to become enamored with big-name visiting and local companies. While these professional troupes naturally draw attentive crowds, it is also important to acknowledge the work of local artists who are shaping the careers of future professional dancers. The state of Texas is home to many prestigious higher education dance programs—with Denton’s own University of North Texas’ Department of Dance being one to watch. Jumping into concert season relatively early in the year, their 2019 Faculty Concert certainly set a high standard for what’s to come. Under the artistic direction of Teresa Cooper, the show was a diverse blend of genres, including choreography from professors, students, and guest artists.
The first student work, produced by Emily Ludlow, presented a curious exploration of weight through traditional modern dance steps. In Thicker Than, eight dancers in minimalist nude and red costumes melted through the space with suspended qualities. Circular arms and arched spines flooded the choreography with an ebb-and-flow, swinging momentum that emitted a calming atmosphere. Weaving spatial patterns aided this force.
Leaping from the tranquil tone of modern dance, guest artist Vincent Hardy’s Liminal thrust audience members into an electrifying view of contemporary ballet. A bare stage with raised wings instantly conjured a stark, industrial mood—only to be heightened by the slow backward walks from the clump of dancers entering on the upstage diagonal. Spectacular red lighting added to the building tension as dancers performed sharp extensions and halting balances. Moments of fluidity floated to the surface in unison group phrases, creating a striking contrast between harsh diagonals (reminiscent of William Forsythe’s linear aesthetic) and rippling upper bodies. Because of the dramatic atmosphere, I longed for more cohesiveness amongst the dancers—the specific, articulate choreography simply left no room for error. Compelling and engrossing, Hardy’s work highlighted the flexibility and strength of his dancers while also presenting a visually captivating choreographic structure.
“Still standing, still alive,” served as the first line of poetry listed under the program note for Professor Mary Lynn Babcock’s Rose. Not only did these words begin a resilient piece of writing, they also echoed through the theater in musician Brittany Padilla’s original score. Showing a softer side of modern dance, Rose opened with four dancers in muted, watercolor tones swaying gently to the dreamy musical accompaniment. Sweeping turns and airy jumps contributed to the light, romantic tone. Through whimsical hops, swinging arms, and serene stillness, the dancers became architectural structures in addition to movers in space.
In the second student work of the evening, Destiny Brown’s Receding Mirage proved to be a curious study in negative space. A quartet of stiff, shape-oriented dancers muscled through quirky floor patterns and structural arrangements. Quick scurries, crawls, and rolls evoked an animalistic tone that complimented the jungle/rainforest sounds in musician Yatao’s “Phoenix.” Aesthetically symmetrical, the quartet divided nicely into rebounding duets. Containing intriguing shapes, the work had a solid basis for further choreographic development.
Guest artist Rennie Harris’ Resurrection closed the show with a theatrical hip-hop piece that featured the complexities of his unique street-style. A heap of ten dancers pushed and shoved one another until one soloist emerged from the wings in unhurried, calculated steps. This mixture of slow pedestrian movements, fun, bouncy phrases, and sharp, vibratory gestures produced a funky tone with an underlying haunting theme—a complicated atmosphere for street-style. In between break-dance floorwork, pointed isolations, and crumping upper bodies lay ominous slow-motion falls and tense, shaking hands. Brilliantly choreographed and well executed, Resurrection embodied the future of hip-hop dance. (Harris will also create a new work in the Dallas Symphony's 2019 Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival this spring; more info can be found here.)
In short, UNT’s Faculty Concert proved to be both well-rounded and skillfully performed. I look forward to seeing where these bright young dancers and emerging artists land as they continue their dance careers.