Fifty performers presenting 10 new choreographic works are featured in this year's "New Dances" showcase at the University of Alaska Anchorage Mainstage. The offerings range from highly abstract - "Falling Together/Pushing Apart" by Brian Jeffery, an exercise in molecular attraction, repulsion, collision and release that sometimes suggested martial arts - to colorful and pop themed fun pieces - Gabe Gray-Harvey's "Technicolor" and Stephanie Wonchala's "Enter the Heat."
Two of the new works struck me as particularly engrossing: "Cubed Perception" by Maisie Stewart featured four dancers in four square spotlights. Eventually one "escaped" from the square and slowly lured the others out, tentatively at first, then with greater verve, sometimes returning to revisit the squares. It brought to mind Plato's Cave Allegory.
Becky Kendall's "The Closing Door" used a non-dancer, violinist Richard Beltzer, playing as he walked among five dancers; curiously one's eyes kept moving to the guy who was walking around rather than the women doing the dancing. The slow playing resembled the music for "Monuments" by Amy Seiwert, which debuted this weekend as part of Alaska Dance Theatre's "Intersections" concert. The professional ADT dancers were notably superior to the UAA students and Seiwert's choreography much more graceful, concise and innovative. But the live music element in "The Closing Door" added a remarkable presence that made the work memorable.
The crowd seemed to most like the "fun" items mentioned above and Nicholas Young's "Robert Boyle," a "Stomp"-like composition in which the dancers own stamping, slapping and finger-snapping supplied edgy accompaniment. There was a long and loud response to this number. "Via Brubeck," by jazz-tapper Katherine Kramer, combined a large corps of barefoot dancers in jitterbuggish moves accompanied by Dave Brubeck tunes (including, inevitably, "Take Five") and tap dancers on small wood platforms set around the stage and behind the audience. It, too, was entertaining, but perhaps not an advancement of the Brubeck group's music, somewhat gilding the lily.
One somewhat disturbing piece, mainly because of the lyrics in the music by Franc Ocean and Rihanna, was "Conflicts in Love" by Creacy Boggess, which had as its subject omestic/relationship violence.
The most perplexing offering was "Apoptosis (PCD) by Ruby S. Kennell. With microscopic video of microbes projected on the back of the space, a cluster of dancers wearing lights moved clockwise around a single dancer in a white gown. Then the video switched to a locomotive and the dancers redressed as amoebas encircled and swallowed the woman in white. The set was left so dark throughout that one was aware only of motion, not dancing.
At the end of the night I encountered several people leaving UAA's "When You Comin' Back Red Ryder?," which is being produced in the Jerry Harper Black Box theater. Their mouths were open. They were trembling. They spoke of stunning and intense theater experience. They got their money's worth.
Both shows will continue with performances on April 19, 20 and 21.