Dallas — John Selya’s Darkside, a premiere performed Wednesday night by the Meadows Dance Ensemble, was heady stuff, a day trip on acid. By throwing together flashing lights, train noises and Tom Stoppard’s trippy text that incorporates Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, one could imagine that Selya was hedging his bets. With so much going on, how could one miss?
But it didn’t quite gel.
It starts before it starts: dancers loll about onstage with the house lights still up. On the far side of the theater, a door opens and Emily McCoy (Kelsey Rohr) peeks in. The door shuts. She pokes her head in again. In the meantime, other characters wander down the aisles and the story begins. It involves a Boy (Reid Conlon) was has been thrown on a train in some kind of philosophical experiment. Or at least, that’s how Baggot/Ethics Man (Zach Biehl) explains it. The Boy revives and connects with the kind-hearted Emily. Meanwhile, Baggot takes over the stage in his cap, mop of hair, sunglasses and mod shirt, looking like an angry young man from a British play, circa 1970. Behind him is a mildly unruly mob, dipping and turning so that their weight flows from top to bottom, even in arabesque. The words keep coming.
Sensory overload, in short.
No such problem with Danny Buraczeski’s Ezekiel’s Wheel (1999). Inspired by James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and the biblical image of Ezekiel’s Wheel, the ballet embraces how circular motion accompanies struggle and accommodation. One by one, eight dancers in cream and white linen dress jump forward from stage right, forming a single line. They run and form a new pattern, held together with elbows akimbo. The movement is strong and rhythmic, sometimes jazzy, sometimes pulsating. The dancers seem grounded yet fluid, with dynamic hesitations and retards. One of the dancers, Shauna Davis, breaks away and in looping, lunging and ever-changing directions, seems to be undergoing a spiritual struggle, cut off from the rest. It is a powerful image of facing death and solitude, beautifully and simply rendered by Davis.
Her companions return in groups of twos and threes, dressed now in everyday jeans and t-shirts, and they swing their bodies sideways and forward. Alone again, Davis contains herself in back and forth movement, slow and deliberate. The group returns, circles and folds over her body. It is a work that grows on you; solemn and sensitive.
If you have seen SMU alumnus Joshua L. Peugh’s Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, you know what to expect: whimsy, nuttiness and underneath it all, sweetness.
MPeugh provides just that in The Hi Petty Cha-Cha. Set in the supposedly more innocent ’50s, couples waltz easily together with the waltz turning into smooth, high lifts. But here are always the oddball encounters: a woman sits on a man’s shoulders, a man rolls away, a woman pokes her pointe shoe onto a man’s torso.
The pointe shoes are a nice touch: the women are deliberately a tiny bit ungainly in them, like wobbly foals. The sweetest section is the pas de deux between Kelsey Rohr and Michael Stone, where she is mostly standing and he either lies flat on his back or sits. Somehow, he manages to rotate her body while still in a sitting position, her legs shooting up like bike spokes.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.