Fort Worth — Packed with works of both classical and contemporary style, Texas Christian University’s dance department gave a sold-out audience an aesthetically pleasing evening in DanceTCU. Trained in both classical and contemporary styles, TCU students displayed their versatility and expertise in an array of pieces as varied as their education. Through six works, the dancers reminded viewers that classical training is still invaluable in a contemporary world.
Faculty member Keith Saunders (formerly director of Dance Theatre of Harlem) known for his began the night with a visually stimulating pointe number titled Bach Pieces. Three of Bach’s familiar works organized the dance into three movement sections—all featuring angular upper bodies, diagonal formations, and brisk direction changes. Technically challenging turns and balances gave a fast-paced feel to the movement and quick foot work complimented the irregular accents of the score. Bach Pieces offered a pleasant opening, but lacked the confidence and presence necessary to grab the audience’s attention.
Unconditional also featured faculty choreography in Suki John’s seductive and mysterious piece. Dancers in bold purple, red, blue, and green silky dresses teased with intense eye contact, sassy hip sways, and sultry walks. In pairs or small groups, the all-female cast wove in and out of rigid lines and into sudden dips or freezes. The angst of the violin and aggression of the cello created a Latin-ballroom, jazzy atmosphere that continued through the flicked wrists, precise claps, and weighted drags of the performers. John’s work provided the attention-pulling focus that the first piece lacked.
As the first guest artist piece of the evening, Still Crossing featured the work of Washington, D.C. based Liz Lerman of Dance Exchange. Shadowy figures emerged throughout the dimly lit stage and scanned the horizon intensely. Dancers rolled gently from one place to the next and shifted their weight into tender pushes and pulls as the space filled with both students and community members. Lerman is no stranger to collaborative community-based work—in fact, Dance Exchange prides itself on facilitating immersive community art projects across the country. So its no surprise that this piece blended students, faculty members, community members, and non-dancers in such a seamless, professional manner. Serene gestures of covered eyes, scooping water, and fists breaking from imaginary restraints paired nicely with the looming noises and ominous sounds. For the climactic finale, performers of all ages, genders, and races stepped in unison, repeating the gesture motifs. This powerful moment was amplified by the diversity and togetherness of the cast.
The second act began with a delightful August Bournonville piece recreated by Susan Dromisky. Pas De Six and Excerpts from Napoli Act III was everything classical ballet should be—complete with cheerful pantomime, pastel romantic tutus, and delicate variations. While the girls charmed with cheeky expressions and swift footwork, the two male roles (performed by Joe LaLuzerne and Liam Evans) were the highlight of the piece due to their fearless jumps and accented kicks.
Faculty member Susan Douglas Roberts wooed viewers into a captivating exploration of fall and recovery in Empty Into The Night. Eight dancers in simple brown costumes recalled an earthy tone that matched nature sounds that trickled throughout the theater. Alternating between bladed, slicing hands and gooey spiraling undulations, the piece oozed with a mesmerizing serenity. Ending with a wild yet fluid solo from Ally Shives, the sensorial work felt both satisfying and complete.
Speaking of satisfying endings, Lioness proved to be the perfect close to the night. Choreographed by Jennifer Archibald, the contemporary pointe piece used eccentric gestures and provoking motifs to bring an animalistic fervor to the dance. A dynamic mix of drama and athleticism, the choreography illuminated the technical abilities of the dancers as they balanced in deep plies and ducked quickly under flying leg extensions. Subtle, accented head snakes and rapid toe flicks gave the work an unconventional and alluring aesthetic. Simply put, Lioness balanced engaging visuals, complex phrases, and theatrical stage presence.