Dallas — Need a break from national turmoil? Wednesday night at Southern Methodist University’s Bob Hope Theatre was the place to be. The Meadows Dance Ensemble shifted our attention to the pleasures of dance with a pretty ballet, a striking modern piece and a feel-good cartoon in the guise of jazz.
A premiere, Adam Hougland’s shimmering, balletic Confluence captured Joby Talbot’s sweeping, surging music of the same title. Confluence flows with the tide. Six women in misty, pale green and pale purple swirl and dip, arms propelling their turns. They move in unison before breaking apart to rotate on separate axes.
Every once in a while, a couple (Katharine Rygiel and Michael Stone) darts in, entwines their bodies and then flares out. The dance builds in intensity with exuberant lifts. The ensemble joins them from time to time, where the rush and flow shifts in speed and excitement. Steve Woods’ pale washes of blue light contribute to the idyllic air.
Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith’s To Have and to Hold (For those we have loved and lost but not forgotten….) has been performed by countless companies since its premiere in 1989, and it’s easy to understand its popularity. Created at the height of the AIDS epidemic, To Have and to Hold moves in and out of exuberance and hedonism to bleak despair.
Three men and women clad in white maneuver over three long narrow benches placed at a slant. There they lie prone and stiff, roll to the ground, bounce back up, slide, jump, dive and cartwheel. It is heady stuff and invigorating, punctuated with bouts of worry, fear and grief. Sometimes they cradle one another for support, at other times back away at though confronting an enemy.
At different intervals, three of the dancers lie down on what serves as a bier, while the other three lie prone on the ground and pull the hands of those above. Who are the dying, who are the living? The image is unsettling and ambiguous.
On a much cheerier—and cheekier—note, faculty member Danny Buraczeski’s Avalon (1985) gathers seven happy-go-lucky dancers and ringleader Reid Conlon to zip through a musical medley that includes works by Al Jolson, Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman. The Meadows Jazz Orchestra provides added zip.
Their shiny jackets of brilliant red, green, blue, orange and yellow trimmed in competing colors contribute to the cartoonish effect. The movement has the same effect, full of sideways hops that suggest dolls, wide-spaced legs and arms, straight-legged walks, explosive leaps, cartwheels and dizzy turns. As the ringleader, Mr. Conlon spurs them on, taking time to embark on delightful tour-de-force windmill spins and leaps.
Among its many virtues, dance lifts the spirits and brings us together, and nowhere was that better expressed than in Mr. Buraczeski’s Ferris Wheel of a dance.