By MIKE DUNHAM
The ongoing collaboration between Alaska Dance Theatre and Oregon’s Eugene Ballet company yielded impressive dividends on Friday night. In a town where contemporary dance often struggles to reach amateur status, the “Intersections” concert at the Discovery Theatre showed remarkably adept performers in good sync – spectacular, actually, given the short rehearsal time – and impressive new choreography.
The four pieces on the program offered a varied array of styles. The most aggressively abstract work came in the first item, “Tyranny of the Senses,” by ADT’s resident choreographer, Gillmer Duran (the foremost among the artists dividing their time between Anchorage and Eugene). Set to new age music by Brian McWhorter, “Tyranny” explored the five senses under a wide-screen projection of images, some no more than squiggly lines, others directly relating to the subject under discussion – hands for “Touch,” lips and a huge red strawberry for “Taste.” “Touch” was further explored as motion, balance, speed, temperature and pain. In the finale, images and gestures from the preceding segments were recapitulated, concluding quietly with a close up of the brain’s heat signature inside the cranium.
It may have been baffling, but it was also endurable and even intriguing.
Eugene’s Toni Pimble choreographed the next piece, a genuine first performance if I understood the after-performance comments correctly. Three local dancers – Sarah Grunwaldt, Niki Maple and Heather McEwen – presented three distinct personalities in “Faces of Eve.” Pimble said they represented a young woman becoming aware of the world, the relationship between siblings, between children and a parent and, finally, the empty nest. But, though the chicks did fly off, they returned for a group hug before the finale.
Jessica Lang’s “A Solo in Nine Parts” was both formal and fun. Set to a Vivaldi concerto, the first movement featured crisp classic and geometric moves with lots of spins and lifts. Female dancers took turns in the solo sections of the score and, whenever the full orchestra came in, so did the corps with delightful effect. The slow movement featured Duran and Grunwaldt (mostly) in a beautiful pas de deux that drew cheers from the crowd. The finale was handled much like the first movement except the soloists were now the male dancers. I was particularly impressed by Bryan Ketron’s rubber-like agility.
The program ended with Duran’s compelling “Without the Cover,” which opened with a jazzy take on Bach’s Toccata in D Minor. The baroque music invited a comparison with the preceding piece, and there were many formations and steps that referred to the balletic traditions seen in Lang’s work. But more flexible and modern moves dominated and the stage included curtains and hanging scrims around which the dancers moved.
The six pieces in “Without the Cover” built on one another nicely. By the mid-point, an compact ensemble piece for five women that left some of them audibly panting, Bach’s Two Part Invention in A Minor had taken on such a Latin overlay as to be scarcely recognizable. The penultimate section bordered on ballroom tango and the finale was an out-and-out stop to de Falla’s rambunctious “La Vida Breve.” The audience was hardly at capacity, but you wouldn’t have known that from the shouts and applause.
Fred Sager’s lighting made significant contributions to the mood. I wouldn’t have minded seeing faces a little more clearly, however.
The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are available at centertix.net.