On Sunday evening, Plano's Courtyard Theater played hosted to a mixed repertoire of movement created and performed by two rather newly minted local dance companies, 8&1 Dance Company and Epiphany DanceArts. The results of "In The Name of Love," were equally as mixed.
On the surface, a joint effort makes sense: split the cost of renting the theater, fill the seats in the house, and provide a venue for local dance work. But in the case with many programs like this one, where collaboration is not the key mission, the evening is disjointed and fragmented. The flow is thrown off by abrupt costume changes, music choices and movement styles.
This sectioning affected the reception of both companies' offerings, and unfortunately, made it difficult to connect to the work, and quite possibly, affected the dancers' focus; thus, resulting in a handful of unsuccessful works. The weakest of the evening from both companies came in the first act, opening with Epiphany Dance Arts' "A Sunday Kind of Love" and closing with 8&1's "Answer Back."
In "A Sunday Kind of Love," the first soloist's movement and stage was too contained. It can work to keep a dancer secluded in one part of the stage; here it didn't. Her focus was on flirting with a man spotlighted in a seat in the front row, that it isolated the rest of the audience from participating in the movement. While she was very animated, her emotions only resonated in her face—her body was left to remain technical, completing the movement in an almost scientific manner.
In the second and fourth section, we saw a recurrence of a very specific motive: a bobbling head. In the second section, it was an uncomfortable and out of place movement, accompanied by a stiff performance by the quintet of dancers. The music, Adele's "Crazy for You," called for more explosion and individuality, but the dancers were kept to synchronized phrases and specific staging. Yet, by the time the fourth section rolled around, their backs loosened up and the spines opened up to accept a freedom of movement.
"Answer Back" brought back two familiar dances—familiar because they graced the same stage last year. It opened with a trio of women perched seductively on three chairs, highlighted by individual spotlights. A strong introduction, but as it evolved into the dance, it left a yearning for more sex appeal, which had the promise of occurring in the following men's trio. Similar in its structure, and albeit more successful due to dancer Avery Wilson's smooth extensions and confidence, more was needed by his two counterparts. The piece ended with a tightly controlled quintet, full of hinges, battements, and leaps. It was clean, and in that way effective, but it had a weak connection to the previous two sections. It was almost an entirely new piece, strong on its own, but weak when attached here.
It was a quick show, though—tight quick changes between each piece and a lighting design that assisted each piece in being the best it could be—with a more successful second act.
8&1 found their groove and energy in "I'll Call You." Set to the driving rhythm of Calvin Harris' "Sweet Nothing," a pop/electronic radio-friendly song, this felt like what the company should be focusing on: fast, athletic movement that moved smoothly and cleaning across the stage, switching between moments of partnering, trios, and solos. This contemporary jazz style suited each of the six dancers bodies. Everything looked easy and natural. It was definitely the start of something, and should be expanded.
Epiphany followed with "Lighting the Way." Utilizing a simple prop, a lantern, they told an easy to follow narrative that held our attention. Also set to radio friendly songs—the entire score came from Mumford & Sons—that suited the company's need to emote, it had close to the right amount of drama. Each of the dancers cleanly executed the choreography, which countered with phrases delicately matched to their technique and bodies.
Celebrating their sophomore (8&1) and junior (Epiphany) years, both these companies have a lot of potential. Time will tell where they go from here.