Complex, polished, engrossing: three words describing three works from SMU’s 2019 Spring Dance Concert this past weekend. Their presentation of Telling Bold Stories delivered a handful of pieces from a phenomenal list of guest artists. Well organized and produced, the night immersed viewers into a diverse exploration of movement, emotion, and thoughtful themes.
To open the show, Japanese-American choreographer Takeiro Ueyama employed dramatic lighting, athletic movement phrases, and mesmerizing repetition in Heroes. Beginning with a trail of dancers walking monotonously across a line of white chairs with raised fists, a serious, brooding tone emerged. Their bold, red suit jackets mirrored the aggressiveness of the dancers’ sudden hurls to the floor. Fearlessly, they threw themselves at partners who lifted, pushed, and threw their bodies across the space. Wild spirals and expansive jumps propelled a vivacious momentum that continued throughout the work. Just when the stage appeared to settle, a mover would disrupt the calm by flinging themselves into the arms of an unsuspecting partner. I was truly impressed with the group’s ability to maintain a sense of reckless abandonment through the lengthy piece—I never once questioned their energy or dynamic levels. Adding to the dramatic mood was the sensational lighting design—including haunting pools of spotlight, shadowed sections, and an excruciatingly slow, yet completely appropriate fade-out in the end. Ueyama’s piece not only highlighted his creative brilliance, but also showcased the maturity of his cast.
For a change of pace, viewers traveled back to the 1920’s in A Rhapsody in Blue. Complete with flapper dresses, crisp suits and of course, George Gershwin’s iconic score, the production felt like a Broadway musical minus the vocal accompaniment—complete with star-crossed lovers, comedic policemen, and a sea of ambitious immigrants. Thanks to his background in choreographing and directing Broadway shows, guest choreographer Alex Sanchez blended together an exciting mixture of ballet, pointe-work, jazz, and tap. With a cast of thirty dancers, the stage teemed with cheerful smiles, chipper skips, and bouncy kicks. Thoroughly entertaining, the work succeeded in merging cheeky, characterized gestures (like the wobbly knees of a lovestruck shoemaker) with technically challenging partner work. While the large group sections proved highly entertaining and visually stimulating, I longed for a more climactic end duet and cohesive finale.
In a dramatic finish, renowned choreographer Dwight Rhoden of Complexions Contemporary Ballet presented Stellar Matter. This demanding contemporary ballet piece was inspired by Rhoden’s exploration of the cosmos—the mysteries, forces, and liveliness of planetary relations. Taking cues from Gustav Holst’s combative score, the dancers sliced and glided through angular shapes and assertive balances. Once again featuring a large cast of over twenty dancers, the stage filled with movers in silver and black costumes complete with planetary ring-like tutus. A robotic quality emerged from the flexed wrists and stiff direction changes—implying an alien aesthetic. Rhoden certainly did not hold back in his use of technically difficult choreography. At times, the quick, sharp, and highly skilled movement phrases proved to be too much for the dancers. However, where their intensity levels lacked, the group compensated with precise shapes and structured formations. One particularly stunning moment occurred as the lights shifted into a golden yellow, and mirroring trios arranged themselves into intriguing clumps of leg extensions. This striking arrangement reminded me of the structural creativity found in George Balanchine’s Agon. Because of the fluctuating dynamics, fascinating shapes, and sheer technicality of the work, Stellar Matter ended the evening on a high note.