Begin at the beginning, and end there as well

Saturday marked the close of the Modern Dance Department’s Performing Dance Company Spring Concert, a two-weekend run consisting of five dances that stood stronger on an individual level than as a comprehensive whole.

The performance began with Bill Evans’ “For Betty,” a work that he choreographed in 1970 for Repertory Dance Theatre upon the request of Dr. Elizabeth Hayes to see something “joyful and exuberant.” In its third restaging on modern dancers at the U, “For Betty” paid tribute to Dr. Hayes, the founder of the U’s modern dance program.

Set to a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, Evans’ piece indeed embodied the spirit of joyousness, though stopped short of anything further. The choreography revolved heavily around circular motifs, demonstrated by the six dancers pairing much of their movement with large, swooping arm circles, even when moving in circular and curvaceous formations.

The emotional levels within “For Betty” changed momentarily during the second movement, with lighting and music adopting a darker tone, while the choreographic focus switched from simultaneous group movement to more personalized choreography for individual dancers. This dynamic, however, soon returned to quick and light expressions of carefree joy with the third movement, reaffirming the restraints put on by Evans’ strict choice of “joyous and exuberant” inspiration.

Eric Handman’s “The Sand Castle” used the same structure for creating dynamics within the piece, which in turn made the opening two dances feel similar in form.

“The Sand Castle” began with dancers adorned in loose-fitting charcoal grey costumes leaping and falling into one another’s arms on a dark stage to the accompaniment of ambient sounds. As the piece progressed, the dim lights became warmer and the ambient sounds of rain gave way to a more colorful selection of music, “Tu ch’hai le penne, amore” by Giulio Caccini.

Like Evans’ “For Betty,” Handman’s piece quickly lapsed into its original quality, now consisting of drab and dim aesthetics coupled with raw ambient noise, including the buzzing of bees.

This choice of accompaniment, while having the potential to offer a contemporary approach to the musicality of the work, felt underused and ignored. The choreography and music lacked a mutual understanding in “The Sand Castle,” as well as in the following work, “AMI,” by choreographer Kaye Richards.

Again, the light design was dark, though the piece’s sole dancer was dressed in eye-popping bright orange-a welcome alternative.

“AMI” was not set to music or to ambient sound but to poetry. This spoken word sequence, titled “I Am a Black Woman,” addressed life as a minority, though the choreography did not. The movement did not give the strong impression of being related to the poem, as an audience member would expect from such powerful lyrics; rather, it felt disconnected and coincidental.

Without the choreography to lend a sense of self-awareness, “AMI” did not present a resolution to the dancer’s story; instead, it showcased an expository presentation.

Stephen Koester’s “Night Watch Wait” presented the most contrast of all the concert’s dances. Yet another piece performed on a dark stage, “Night Watch Wait” accentuated this darkness with pools of white light streaming down onto the dancers, along with a reflective backdrop projection of shimmering light on rippling water.

Koester’s piece incorporated numerous duets and trios of dancers crawling over, winding through and throwing themselves at one another-reminiscent of Handman’s choreography in “The Sand Castle,” though to a more diverse extent. Koester provided consistent juxtaposition of choreographic movement from the hauntingly slow and sustained to the fiercely quick and power-driven.

Accompanied by ambient sounds, “Night Watch Wait” resonated with Handman’s work. However, Koester’s piece provided a night theme within which the audience could contextualize the fleeting noises. The dancers moved to sounds of crickets, coyotes and other nighttime creatures.

Though rather lengthy for a work choreographed completely to ambient noise, “Night Watch Wait” routinely produced an element of surprise. Dancers suddenly turned violent and forceful toward one another, which led to thrashing limbs and physical manipulation. Just as quickly as this intensity was established, the quality of the dancers’ movements became forgiving and sensual, allowing time for embrace.

The final piece of the performance, Pamela Geber’s “Deaf Voices, Mute Ears,” evoked the less successful aspects of the evening’s program, rendering it nearly incomprehensible to the untrained modern dance eye. Clothed in dreary seventeenth-century undergarments, the dancers moved about the poorly lighted stage to the accompaniment of an aria by J. S. Bach. Instead of opting for an alteration of focus from one group or pair of dancers to the next, Geber’s piece featured the continuous interchange of partners moving on and off the stage incessantly.

Attempting to conceptually echo confessions of dancers’ pasts, “Deaf Voices, Mute Ears” provided little more than a frenzy of inaccessible movement. Insufficient even in pure entertainment value, the choreography did not provide a pathway into the piece for viewers to grasp a coherent message or thought.

With embellished shortcomings and undermined strengths, the Performing Dance Company Spring Concert never quite departed from where it first began. Though pieces developed individually, the energy level of the entire program was stagnant.

[email protected]