Variety among the strengths of UAA's edgy 'New Dances' show

ARTISTS: Offerings of dance ensemble meld into thoughtful mix.

April 9, 2010 

"New Dances 2010" took to the streets in its Thursday night opener. The UAA Dance Ensemble, together with choreographers old and new, added urban dance styles and ideas -- from tap to jazz to tribal fusion dance -- to spice up a creative stew of movements that were edgy, curious, expansive and, in a word, eclectic.

What the choreographers did in Thursday's performance at the Harper Studio Theatre was to add subtlety to these dance forms and give them a maturity that made them more persuasive as art.

UAA choreographer Leslie Ward offered up a sensual world in "Uncanny Valley." Tribal fusion dance, with an emphasis here on belly dancing and Indian hand gestures, intersected the body isolations of hip-hop to create sly and edgy movements. Six women enticed a single man with shivering hips and undulating fingers. Bodies moved from liquid motions to the solid wall of hip-hop's harsh physical attitude and back again.

Guest choreographer Katherine Kramer's "Pause, Facing West" was a fresh and at times shadowed nod to the openness of the American West. Eight dancers opened the work with swaying hips and shifts in directions as if they were birds on the fly or grasses in the wind. The second half was all rhythms as a single woman led the rest in stamping and clapping.

"Work Whistle" took a page from the "Tap Dogs" phenomenon. A group of movement percussionists banged out rhythms on paint cans, brushes, a wall, the floor and themselves. This work by Michelle Steffens was a good taste of what rhythms can do for the body and the mind when they get rolling along, one feeding the next.

"Crosswalk in G Major" was a lovely work by Becky Kendall set to a Bach suite for solo cello. The five women in the dance moved with an innately quiet beauty. They loved their bodies and the movements that arose from them. There was no hurry here, no effort, and seemingly no thought to what they did. It came naturally to them and each smile at the dance's end was a note of pure grace.

Several darker works filled the studio with somber and at times scary moods. Hannah Gauthier's solo "Chosen Potential" was a violent continuum of actions that moved back and forth, stuttered and broke apart. But it was like watching someone circling a drain forever; she went nowhere and ended as she started.

Chris Branche and Ryan Nixon's "Not Yet" was equally as disturbing, if not as outwardly violent. Three men -- three aspects of a single man -- circled each other like fighters sizing up their chances at a knock-out blow. At times they seemed to work with each other, a helping hand reaching out to another. But that sense of oneness quickly broke apart again and again until one man was left onstage, facing the "people" in his mind.

Melissa Jabaay's "Funhouse" was anything but. It was a circus nightmare where all the clowns have sharp teeth and the ballerinas are high on drugs. These carnival creatures were predatory, moving through a hallucinatory dream that took the dreamer along for an off-kilter, perilous ride. Thursday's performance of "New Dances 2010" was thoughtful and well-done, a good showing by a troupe of artists who continue to push themselves creatively.

Anne Herman holds a master's degree in dance and has been a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Variety among the strengths of UAA's edgy 'New Dances' show

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