'New Dances' mixes thoughtful works with lesser ones

Anne Herman
The cast of Leslie Ward's "Bro-Down" at UAA's "New Dances."
Photo by Joshua Grisham
Carrie Hafele in Teena Marie Custer's "Braggin' Rites" at UAA's "New Dances."
Photo by Joshua Grisham

The UAA Dance Ensemble mixed things up in its "New Dances 2012" concert. The college-aged performers have been known over the years for their contemporary, even post-modern, take on this art. Symbolism -- verbal and kinetic -- runs through much of their past works.

Friday night's performance at UAA's Mainstage Theater seemed a symbolism-free zone. That is fine. But if you are not going for the big metaphor, you had better make the movements look good. This worked only partially in the concert.

Three dances stood out, on each end of the emotional spectrum. Tyche Privett and Scott Heverling's "Henry" was a scary look at "the monsters inside us," as the two said in the program's choreographer's notes. The piece opened in darkness with the sound of a foot beating on the floor. Nearly nude dancers writhed and shivered, pushing and pulling at each other and themselves. Fingers became talons and hair a rat's nest of frightening emotions the dancers couldn't fathom or suppress.

Leslie Ward's "Bro-down" was a funny romp of masculine stereotypes moving on "The Conveyor Belt of Love," (which apparently was a short-lived reality show, according to her notes). A passel of males -- with a few women in disguise -- posed, grunted and ran around being "manly." The fist bumps, the wolf-whistles, the game day cheering and beer-drinking were all there. And it was marvelous.

Equally as light was Christopher Branche's "9x7i>3(3x-7u)," a most unlikely name (I guess ... but I am not a mathematician) for a quartet of young women enjoying the ways their bodies moved. Just watching them made you smile: their bodies laughed, giggled and flirted in clear, simple actions that let their sunny dispositions shine through.

Joshua Washington's "Classic Ish" was the beginning of an urban tale of love, loss and sexy fun. Ten dancers had a great time strutting and mugging for each other. The fact that the work did not lead anywhere seemed just what Washington wanted.

The concert stuttered when the choreographers tried to express the deeper meanings of love. Many works just skimmed the surface rather than explored this emotion in depth -- unless you count anger and pain.

Karlyn Grotts' "Surrender in Grace" was a confluence of massed movements that flowed and rolled across the floor. Dancers separated from time to time in anguished back bends, their fingers splayed. Likewise, Timothy Eby's "Duet for a Dozen" contrasted martial arts actions with gentle shoves and pushes that devolved into violence as dancers' arms and legs swung out to hit one another.

Ironically, Rae Posey's "Gra'" was supposed to express "the battle of love," as her notes said. But what we saw was more sad and regretful than angry. Dancers waltzed in circles of light as a singer asked "where was the fault in loving you with all my heart?"

"New Dances 2012" was a mixed bag, with some thoughtful dances sitting side by side with lesser works. What was exciting to see, though, was the large number of dancers who call the UAA Dance Ensemble their company. That can only speak of better things to come from this young troupe.

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

Special to the Daily News