PDC pleases patrons in its fall performance

Picture the artistic imagery of bodies softly falling through light. Imagine the astounding endurance and strength of professional athletes. Envision the virtuosity of the human spirit expressed in ways verbal language falls short. This was the opening sequence for Performing Dance Company’s stunning fall performance.

The program was especially appealing because of the variety it offered. Boye-Christensen’s opener, “In Passing,” was a composition of large, full-bodied movement combinations juxtaposed against simple, technical gestures, such as a demi pli in first position or rond de jambes in place.

The bright, flowing, velvet fabrics of costume designer Steve Rasmussen were enriched by the skilled lighting design of John P. Duffy. This opening collaboration of Boye-Christensen, Rasmussen and Duffy offered the audience a spectacular visual feast which promised the audience a forthcoming evening of high quality artistic entertainment.

Truly the highlight of the evening was assistant professor Eric Handman’s new work, “The Ash of Old Myths.” The mature choreography was not poisoned with pretense or sentimentality, but retained a sense of clairvoyance, which was nearly a poignant experience. The dancers executed every movement of Handman’s craft with a sense of quiet grace.

Even while taking stifling risks and propelling their bodies to the floor, all five of Handman’s dancers performed with the ease of seasoned artists.

Most notable among the performers were Noel Wetzel and Matthew Grierson. Wetzel’s range of motion throughout the piece was fully realized. Her high-back arches seemed to be calling on the sky to rain down upon her, and her limbs seemed to reach through space like the propulsion of objects in 3-D movies.

Grierson’s brief solo offered him grounds to display his awe-inspiring athleticism and grace. In Handman’s innovative movements, such as running sideways on hands and feet, Grierson covered the entire stage in seconds, while never releasing his captivating focus on the audience.

Handman himself designed the engaging mixed score, which accompanied his virtuosic cast. Audience members could not help but have a visceral response to the industrial sounds of trains and machinery over the pulse of Primal Scream, thus layered with rich compositions of John Powell and James Newton Howard.

The tone lightened before intermission with PDC artistic director Brent Schneider’s “My Old Friend the Blues.” This playful dialogue among a quartet of women offered a fun contrast to the artistic nature of the preceding pieces. Dancers played a version of musical chairs, complaining-physically and verbally-when they could not sit where they wanted to. The narrative nature of the choreography was complimented by the rhythm and blues of Keb’Mo’how?.

Unlike the typical most-modern release technique of the other choreographers, Schneider employed a more playful movement vocabulary such as kick-ball-changes and cartwheels.

Satu Hummasti, a newcomer to the modern dance faculty this fall, also offered her choreographic talent to the fall concert.

Perhaps the most marked characteristic of her piece, “Into Somebody Else’s Arms,” is that it featured live accompaniment by pianist Mark Fuksman. This allowed not only the dancers to follow the music, but the music to follow the dancers. Just as the pianist would strike a key and then the note would continue to ring out, the dancers would gesture with a noticeable impulse and then resound with soft fluidity of movement. Duffy’s shadowy lighting added to the melancholy tones of the music and choreography.

The concert concluded with, “There’s a Tango in Here Somewhere,” by associate modern dance chairperson Abby Fiat. It is no wonder that being cast in one of Fiat’s pieces has been a goal of dance students for two decades. Her movement is creative and innovative and her direction yields clear, clean execution.

With seven dancers to work with, Fiat’s piece featured small groups of trios and duets, often convening into a straight line and then again dissolving away from it to explore complex movement phrases and playful relationships.

A highlight of the piece was a playful gestural duet between Molly S. Jorgensen and Jonathan Meader. There hands and fingers performed a comedic and intricate duet in non-traditional (yet undeniably) tango, fashion. This was followed by a creative trio of feet and legs in the air, seemingly detached from the bodies lying on the stage below them.

With variety from playful physical conversation to profound, emotionally evocative art, PDC’s fall concert offered something for everyone. Even the novice dance audience member found something of interest in the performance. Without intentional bragging, this performance allowed the modern dance department to prove why it is continually ranked among the nation’s best college dance programs.

The students, undergrad and graduates alike, display technique and artistry that comes from both incredible training and enduring desire and passion for their art. It is no wonder that both of Salt Lake’s professional modern companies, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and Repertory Dance Theater, are primarily comprised of PDC alumni.

PDC performs twice a year in the Hayes Christensen Theater at the Marriott Center for Dance. The company’s next performance will be Feb. 17-19 and 24-26 at 7:30 pm. Prior to that, however, U dancers can be seen performing in “The Whole Story and Other Half Truths.” This concert, choreographed entirely by graduate students in the modern department, will run from Dec. 1-4. More information is available by calling 581-7327.

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