Dallas — College football may use the Red River as a battle line, but some in North Texas prefer to use it as a bridge. Muscle Memory Dance Theatre shares the stage with Oklahoma City’s Perpetual Motion for Crossing: A Red River Contemporary Dance Exchange presented at LIFE in Deep Ellum. Nine different choreographers display works that are eclectic yet similar enough that they make for a cohesive concert. Music tends toward contemporary classical or ambient electronic, so it feels as if a faint theme weaves throughout the performance.
Kiera Amison’s duet Left I Stand, Right I Yield opens the evening. Clad in warm tones, Amanda Will and Arrica Lagsding begin and progress as many modern dances do—slow, methodical, then gradually speeding up to sharper more aggressive movements. The two seem suspicious of each other at first, and moments of struggling, offering, and anxiety follow. At last a point of contact breaks the tension, and the yielding begins. It’s quite a lovely piece made even stronger by two engaging performers.
The next four pieces aren’t quite as gripping, but the dancers still have a good showing. Amy Nevius’ Fault Line gives the Dallas audience a first glimpse at Perpetual Motion with an intense, jazzy work featuring some strong performances from a few of the dancers. Jackie Beth Shilcutt’s With Us emphasizes her usual contemplative demeanor with some signature controlled stunts set to a recognizable tune from Penguin Café Orchestra. Life is a Circus from Alana Murray and Katie Noble lightens things up with a comedic performance including some slapstick and partnering, while Amanda Will’s Did I Ever Tell You… keeps the mood light with a calm, leisurely quintet.
Whatever happy feelings are still around after intermission promptly fade with Brandy Niccolai’s distressing solo Torment in White. The title is pretty much self-explanatory. Donning a delicate white dress with belts fastened to the waistband, Niccolai begins the dance slowly moving along the floor on a diagonal pathway. Gestures near her head and the whispering voices in the music allude to a possibly madness, and the garish sound of the belts clanking against the floor create an unsettling mood. She makes her way to standing, only to fall abruptly, making the belts sound more like chains. After more falling, spinning, and flinging, her presence calms, the belts connect to reveal more of her body, and her hands act as if they’re smoothing out the wrinkles and washing body clean of the torment.
The next two pieces follow a theme of exploration. Kim Loveridge’s Something New features some cautious-looking dancers dressed in colorful tanks and skirts walking around repeating various movements with the hands. It’s intriguing, but the curiousness doesn’t seem to find a resolution. Meghan Cardwell-Wilson’s offering of That Body Was Mine takes the exploration down to a more personal level, using touch and some very physical connections. Themes of birth, possession and wonder float throughout the piece. Familiar elements from her choreographic style pop up here and there, but new elements arrive as well.
PM’s artistic director Michelle Moeller presents an athletic and exciting Look Right, Look Left to close out the show. With ominous music by Colin Stetson, the seven dancers maneuver through each other with nice musicality and series of lifts and catches, ending the performance on a high note.
The show stands in stark contrast against the dazzling affair of TITAS’ Command performance happening just across the highway. While the latter beguiles audiences with intricate tricks, impossible athletics and flawless lines, M2DT and Perpetual Motion present an intimate, introspective gathering focused more on the communicative power of dance. At the risk of oversimplifying, a Command Performance says “Look what the human body can do,” while M2DT counters with “Look what the human body can say.” Neither is greater than the other; we need both.