Zion Dance Project at Uptown Theater

Review: Zion Dance Project Summer Series 2019 | Zion Dance Project | Mainstage 222

Praise Be

Zion Dance Project delighted audiences at Grand Prairie's Uptown Theater this weekend.

published Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Photo: Alissa Cucjen
Zion Dance Project at Uptown Theater


Grand Prairie — Nestled away in the quaint downtown of Grand Prairie, the Uptown Theater certainly drew the largest crowd this weekend. The retro venue buzzed with nervous energy as dancers greeted show-goers at the entrance with bright smiles and welcoming words—just a preview of the relentlessly enthusiastic dynamics to come. With over 70 dancers from the Zion Dance Project company, guest artists, and summer intensive participants, their production of Sealed seamlessly blended performers of varying levels into a program of unified works. The Christian dance company prides itself on delivering a concert dance experience fueled by spiritual encounters—their Summer Series culmination was exactly that. In fourteen pieces mostly comprised of large ensembles, expressions of joy, sorrow, and reverence guided dancers through narrative-based works.

Beginning with a boom, Co-Artistic Director Vincent Hardy’s Battleground introduced viewers to the Christian themes that would continue throughout the night. Movers chugged and bounced in time with the hip-hop beats, providing a commercial, performative experience. Dramatic gestures and aggressive head grabs mirrored the tone of the pounding bass to provide an attention-grabbing opening. However, the dark lighting and staging of dancers out of light range foreshadowed an unfortunate trend that continued throughout the night. In nearly every piece, much of the downstage choreography was simply lost to darkness and shadow.

Displaying his versatility, Vincent Hardy’s balletic Briah offered a softer tone. With leggy extensions and reaching swirls of the upper-body, dancers glided quickly throughout the stage. Despite moments of visually pleasing formations, the cast lacked a sense of unity and connection to one another.

Photo: Alissa Cucjen
Zion Dance Project at Uptown Theater

Mimicking rise and fall patterns, Frankie Perterson’s Walking in Authority teemed with emotional walks, slicing arms, and a repeated crowning gesture. The serene introduction swelled into a busy scene of individual movements that made it difficult to find a central focus.

In She Is, choreographer Audra Wilson employed strong, angular motifs and Graham-like contractions and releases. Traditional modern dance techniques floated to the top of this regal, deliberate work. The solemn voices from the musical accompaniment cultivated an atmosphere of building tension that never quite resolved itself in the end.

Vincent Hardy’s movement returned with Simply Jesus—a hip-hop piece featuring slick glides, accentuated body rolls, and swooping knees. Bookmarking the beginning and ending were two solos—oozing fluidity, accented hits, and dynamic stops—and also serving as the highlight of the work.

Peace in Pieces opened on a pile of bodies in the center of the stage. Choreographer Hailey Von Schlehenried used unfolding motions and spinal undulations on her pointe dancers while also including moments of traditional ballet partnering. With more rehearsal and emphasis on connection (especially in partner-work), togetherness, and relationship, the work has the potential to evolve into an intriguing exploration of contemporary ballet.

Stag leaps, hinging bodies, and pleading hands cultivated a tone of desperation and desire in Hallelujah, choreographed by Randall Flinn. As the dancers began to pantomime gestures that matched the lyrics of the song, the work bordered on more theatrical, liturgical dance.

Closing the first half, Liminal earned a spot in the top two works of the evening. Vincent Hardy’s training with Complexions Contemporary Ballet set the stage for this complicated, technically challenging piece. Also performed by the University of North Texas’ dance department earlier this year during their faculty concert, Liminal displayed the most developed composition and mature choreography of the night. The artists of the Summer Series tackled the task of replicating UNT’s dynamic performance with enthusiasm and dedication. Their diagonal slices and cutting leg lifts maintained the intensity of the dramatic Max Richter score.

Based on the story of the prodigal son, Vincent Hardy’s The Return began with a captivating duet between two male dancers as they manipulated one another by pushing in and out of lifted holds. Dancers with carving arches, swimming arms, and melty knees joined the space for a busy, repetitive cannon section that took away from the powerful intro duet. Eventually, the fullness of the stage spilled into the audience as movers wove in between aisles and dancers hidden in seats stepped onstage to walk through the bridge of bodies.

Withered, Then Reborn left the heavy emotional component of the previous piece and instead suggested a tranquil, muted atmosphere. The long line of dancers morphing into connected shapes served as a mesmerizing opening—I only wished it was drawn out longer! With stirring motions, circular body reaches, and deep lunges, choreographer Angel Palmer painted an visually captivating work.

In the first all-male piece of the night, Vincent Hardy used the strength of his dancers for massive leaps, sharp turns, and powerful hits. The action-packed Glory to the Lamb featured a flurry of exits and entrances, quick spatial changes, and even some flag spinning. Similar to other large ensemble pieces within the program, the constant movement and crowded stage might have benefitted from some moments of stillness and dynamic shifts.

Co-Artistic Director Abigail Hardy returned to a softer aesthetic in Innocence Lost. Connected by a long string of rope, the dancers tangled themselves together with sweeping legs, swirling turns, and tender brushes.

Another highlight of the show occurred in Vincent Hardy’s Battle Cry—a fast-paced, upbeat combination of angular arms and grounded floorwork. Clever transitions and multi-leveled movements added to the complexity of the work. A spiraling, malleable solo to close the number was simply the icing on the cake.

Set to the exuberant tune “A Brand New Day” from Diana Ross and Michael Jackson’s version of The Wiz, the final piece gave viewers a joyful send-off. Flashy smiles, buoyant jumps, and musical theater elements closed the show on a perky, cheerful note. Thanks For Reading

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Praise Be
Zion Dance Project delighted audiences at Grand Prairie's Uptown Theater this weekend.
by Emily Sese

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