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CDE Puts a Spring in UVSC's Step

By Karen Anne Webb
Dance Review:
Contemporary Dance Ensemble
Utah Valley State College Ragan Theatre

Spring is here, Utah Valley State College just received its charter as a university, and a fabulous way of celebrating both came courtesy of Contemporary Dance Ensemble. Its new concert, Breaking Bounds, played in the Ragan Theatre the weekend of March 23.

The concert features both the pre-professional CDE dancers and dancers from Synergy Dance, the student company that focuses on student-produced work. Choreographers include faculty members as well as heavy-hitting guests like Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company Associate Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen.
The concert is so diverse and the works are performed so well, it's hard to delineate whether the stars are the dancers or the pieces themselves (or the live music and additional media that accompany several of the pieces)—most of the time, the star is a felicitous synthesis of all three. It's a little like being at an intelligently designed feast where each dish alone entices but the entire menu taken together somehow transcends the delectability of the individual parts.

I was familiar with the work of most of the choreographers on the bill so expected solid concepts and well-constructed movement. What I wasn't expecting was the excellence of execution. Most of the press in the area, when it bothers with student companies at all, seems to focus on the companies attached to the big universities. CDE is its own best argument in favor of the press expanding its horizons: it is an undeservedly underrated treasure. Clean lines, lovely technique, vital energy, a sense of breath, of clarity in defining, say, suspension versus release—UVSC's dancers demonstrated all this and more.

Two of the more ambitious works on the program were developed by faculty members. Angela Banchero Kelleher's "Cassandra" integrates the spoken text of poet Alex Caldiero; Doris Trujillo's "Of Question" integrates a live string quartet, an original composition by composer Marden Pond, and the art work of fellow faculty member Hyunmee Lee.

You can't imagine two more different pieces or uses of additional media. Trujillo's piece, a solo for new Portuguese import Wilson Domingues, is a somber study inspired by Lee's introspective paintings, several of which serve as a sequential projected backdrop. The energy of the choreography, like the paintings, is introspective; the dissonance and darker tone of the music heighten the sense of serious exploration of self.
Banchero Kelleher's, by contrast, has an energy whose orientation is focused outward. The reference of the title is to the mythological prophetess cursed by Apollo to give accurate predictions to which no one would listen. Are there, Banchero Kelleher asks, Cassandras among us to whom we should be listening? (I would say yes; they're simply not the people in power.)

I loved the sense of mathematical composition and symmetry about this piece: if you've seen Sara Rudner's "Inside/Out" or even William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," you've seen a similar aesthetic in which movement phrases sweep across the stage and change their focus like eddies near a riverbank. Based on a finite number of shorter movement phrases—technically more complex than Rudner's and, of course, having more of a modern dance sensibility than Forsythe's—the work pulses with vitality. Energy varies from the quiet defining of pretty shapes through sheer brilliant athleticism through complete freneticism that seems to be the movement equivalent of shouting, "Listen to me, you fools!"

For me, the dance and Zoe Keating's score were sufficient in themselves. I like the vision of having a spoken word component voiced by the poet as he meanders in and out, but—my failing—Caldiero's work is sometimes hard to absorb on a first hearing, so its relevance to the piece was not always clear.
Brightening the stage were Synergy's contribution, director Amy Markgraf Jacobsen's "Being Bach," and Youssouf Koumbassa's "Wongai Faré." Because of its Bach score and initial combination of simple movement and complex use of the stage, I kept flashing on Paul Taylor's "Esplanade" with Markgraf Jacobsen's piece. In composition and use of the stage, it harked back to this and others of Taylor's "barefoot ballets." It is a lovely, sweet, energetic piece.

Of special note was Markgraf Jacobesen's way of using her dancers, a large ensemble of younger students. She choreographed to their strengths and used beautiful, intricate floor patterns and groupings as well as entrances and exits to delegate stage time to her dancers according to their abilities. Her more mature dancers got a little extra time onstage, but not to the extent that they upstaged those with less skill or stamina; newer dancers were show to good advantage but not kept onstage so long they were taxed beyond their abilities. Her two soloists, Missy Clearwater and Emily Newell, are dancers of great potential.
Koumbassa's work is a complete shift in gears from the rest of the program. It is a piece inspired by the movements of the Susu people of Guinea, West Africa. (I'm tempted to say that where there is Kim Strunk, there is dance of the peoples of West Africa; Strunk served as rehearsal director for the piece and is one of the onstage percussionists.) The piece is colorful, incredibly high-energy, and just plain fun. The pulsing beat of the percussion and the infectious enthusiasm of the dancers is the sort of thing that makes it hard to stay in your seat and impossible to sit still.

Boye-Christensen's generous contribution to the program was her 1998 work, "Stirrings II," revised a bit from earlier performances to suit the strengths of the sextet of CDE dancers who performed it. This is one of her strongest and most effective works. Her initial intent was to parallel elements in both Singaporean society and the society of the Shaker religion, in both of which severe restraints are imposed on members who may, deep down, have other ideas about breaking the mold. Big, swooping movements—leaps, sisonnes, seated postures in which the limbs are splayed—alternate with phrases in which the dancers walk in line taking the sort of steps one would be forced to take while wearing a kimono. A fascinating and insightful piece danced perfectly in this new iteration.

Rounding out the bill were Trujillo's "Resilire," a study in impulse, propagation, and reaction, and guest choreographer Susan McLain's "Evening Soul," a dual octet for eight dancers and eight chairs. The former, played against a dissonant, angst-ridden score, has a darker energy; the latter, by contrast, has a gentle, lyrical touch that caresses the senses like the first scented breeze of early summer.



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