Dance St. Louis and 'Dance Horizons II' Shine at Touhill

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Building on the tremendous success of the inaugural “New Dance Horizons” program last year, Dance St. Louis brought the impressive event back last weekend at Touhill Performing Arts Center with “New Dance Horizons II,” which pairs four renowned choreographers with four local dance companies to produce four world premieres. The program was a visual, sensual and emotional feast.

Leverage Dance Theatre in "Dance Horizons II." Photo by Steve Truesdell

Leverage Dance Theater in “New Dance Horizons II.” Photo by Steve Truesdell

 

The exceptionalism was evident at the onset as Leverage Dance Theater opened with “Encounters With the Intimate,” choreographed by Nejla Yatkin. As the piece moved toward its conclusion, a sharp light cut through the pitch to illuminate an intimate portion of the stage. Paper fluttered from the sky like snowy-white leaves falling from deciduous clouds, lazily rocking their way to the earth and forming a mound. A dancer emerged from the pile while another luxuriated in it as though bathing, until the piece concluded with ballerinas dancing in celebration while another figure arose—an extension of the mound itself. The rich imagery became mesmerizing and dreamlike.

Saint Louis Ballet in "Dance Horizons II." Photo by Steve Truesdell

Saint Louis Ballet in “New Dance Horizons II.” Photo by Steve Truesdell

Choreographer Emery LeCrone’s “Figurant” with St. Louis Ballet served up the “cool” moment of the show when the ballerinas made entrances on pointe like life-sized, top-of-the-music-box figurines, propelled by the male dancers. It was a smile-inducing surprise. Also surprising was LeCrone’s daring choice of music from Mary Ellen Childs’ “Dream House,” inspired by construction sounds during a rehab of her house. The movement called “Saw” sounded like what one would expect: loud, screechy, strident and discordant. Not everybody’s cup of musical pleasantry, to be sure, but one that invites scrutiny and contemplation.

CommonThreadContemporaryDanceCompany in PNC Arts Alive New Dance Horizons II presented by Dance St. Louis, photo by Steve T

Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company in “New Dance Horizons II.” Photo by Steve Truesdell

Next, Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company presented “One,” choreographed by Uri Sands, which incorporated both contemporary ballet and modern. The performance was at times shocking and grotesque—the dancers dressed as toiling women with white buckets, their bodies hunched and gnarled, misshapen under the weight of their labors, or perhaps the weight of their sex itself and the expectations of womanhood. But then there’s an explosion of beauty as the dancers erupted across the stage like a sudden flock of starlings, darting to and fro, inexplicably moving as a single organism. At the conclusion, paper again fell from the sky, this time reminiscent of slivers of stars—the essence of a woman’s strength—as the dancers lifted their buckets to catch each little bit of stardust.

The Common Thread piece is inspired by the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who, while undergoing treatment for cervical cancer in 1951, had healthy and cancerous cells removed for study without her knowledge. Today those cells are still alive, are in use in upwards of 70,000 research and medical facilities and have contributed to most major medical advancements in cellular research.

MADCO in "Dance Horizons II." Photo by Steve Truesdell

MADCO in “New Dance Horizons II.” Photo by Steve Truesdell

The pièce de résistance was “Land’s Edge,” performed by MADCO. Not strictly a world premiere, the work was originally commissioned from the dance company Pilobolus by current Dance St. Louis‘ artistic and executive director, Michael Uthoff, while he was artistic director of Hartford Ballet. Here, Jude Woodcock reconstructs the original Pilobolus choreography by Robby Barnett, Alison Chase and Jonathan Wolken.

The narrative of the story takes us to a remote village populated by peasants whose lives are interrupted by a woman, her lifeless body coming to rest motionless at the center of the stage. The way the villagers react reveals their innermost selves. They reject her at first then manipulate her, pulling the still body up to standing, then over shoulders, then releasing her to collapse back to the floor, which is performed with such artistry—the dancer goes to the floor so astonishingly fast it’s as though a turbine has sucked her to its surface—that it deserves special mention. One expects a loud thud, at least, but the dancer performs the movement silently. She is unidentified in the program. Ultimately, the tribe accepts and draws her in, and she is reborn and sent out into the world to repeat her motivating influence with some other tribe in some other part of the world. The piece reminds us that we all can be agents of change.

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