Back after a four-season hiatus, Davis Contemporary Dance (DCD) is back on the stage at the Mizel Arts & Culture Center’s Elaine Wolf Theatre with a focus on cross-collaboration. Unlike other dance companies who collaborate only with other arts groups outside of dance, Founder/Artistic Director, Terrell Davis, leverages connections inside the dance community to showcase choreography by Cleveland-based Terence Greene, Founder/Artistic Director of The Greene Works Project, Cheyenne-based Ballet Wyoming, and Robert Sher-Machherndl, Artistic Director of Boulder-based Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet as well as works by company-member Aubrey Klinger. Additionally, the second half of the performance features live music by Aimee Palifroni, Justin McCarty, and Anna Fields. The resulting performance provides a brief snap shot of the contemporary dance scene along the Front Range.
Phases, the first work of the evening, choreographed by Greene and featuring the DCD company takes the viewer on an emotional and psychological journey through human relationships. The costumes, both sophisticated and sensual, reflect the piece’s intense, erotic, and complex tones with their black lace on nude bodices for the female and mesh black tanks for the male dancers. The dancers couple and recouple, cling to one another, frenetically and frantically move and throw themselves on to ground. Maggie Chapman and Abby Mather especially give their all to every gesture and movement, imbuing sheer power on stage.
Ballet Wyoming takes the stage for the second piece, Julia, by Robert Sher-Machherndl. The piece takes a decidedly different approach from Phases as it takes a more formalistic approach, pairing the stretched-out, almost wonky beats of the music to fluid yet robotic movements, creating a piece that feels much like the dance equivalent of speculative fiction. The piece relies heavily on soloists, Bailey Devries and Tiffany Erickson, but the chorus struggles to maintain synchronicity. One dancer remains a full one to two counts behind throughout the performance and even seems to be in her own world at times.
DCD takes the stage for the third work choreographed by company-member Klinger called Foiled. The work features an infinity scarf as a prop throughout. While the scarf holds enormous metaphoric and symbolic value throughout acting as a noose, shackles, an umbilical cord, or a steadfast connection, the dancers often fumble the execution, manipulation and handling of it at times simply going through the motions, other times getting tripped up or taking too long to get the scarf in the right place. Khanhsong Nguyen, like Chapman and Mather, gives a compelling and emotional performance as she embodies each movement with her whole body.
The fourth piece, again choreographed by Klinger, Breath Before the Word, reminded me a bit of the scene in The Sound of Music where Liesel and Franz sing and dance and flirt with one another in the moonlight. Klinger’s tulle skirt and a bench on stage add a touch of European romance to the performance as Klinger and Ryan Rose’s long, graceful movements flow about the stage.
Following the intermission, Ballet Wyoming performs Night Run choreographed by Davis. The lovely blue and purple costumes, designed by Ballet Wyoming Founder and Artistic Director, Kathy Vreeland, float ethereally as the dancers move. The piece, while featuring beautiful choreography, suffers greatly again from a lack of synchronization among the company that this time is not so easily overlooked or hidden by stage direction.
The next work, Everyday People, choreographed by Davis is a series of five shorter vignettes accompanied by live music. Some of the stage direction includes the musicians taking the main stage and even interacting with the dancers. Aimee Palifroni’s initial position at center stage make it seem, confusingly, as though she will be dancing in addition to singing due to her turquoise tulle skirt. While the effort to give the musicians a more pronounced and integrated role in the performance is admirable, it doesn’t always quite work, at times feeling forced. However, Palifroni and Justin McCarty’s duet of “Like I’m Going to Lose You” sans dancers works well, even when Palifroni’s microphone goes out. She is able to belt out her lyrics effortlessly despite having sung three prior songs. Davis varies the choreography and movement throughout Everyday People so that each vignette remains unique yet connected. My only peeve occurs during “Keep Your Words,” set to an acoustic version of No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” as the dancers cover their mouths in tandem to the lyrics. Such a move feels too pedestrian for an otherwise thoughtful and creative choreographer.
Overall, DCD’s instinct to feature multiple choreographers in a single evening not only keeps the performance stylistically engaging throughout but it also challenges the company, the dancers and the choreographers to get outside their individual perspectives. Basically, it’s just plain smart. Often, I see choreographers, even in acclaimed companies, get stuck in the same movement patterns and phrases. Davis’ integration of choreographers and dancers outside his company takes a commitment to dance itself as well as bravery to share the spotlight, so to speak, with the “competition.” I for one would love to see more dance companies – local, regional and national – collaborate, join forces and expand their repertoires. If dance and the performing arts in general are to survive, individual organizations have to find a way to maximize their talent and resources.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Americans for the Arts’ ARTSblog, Daily Serving and KYSO Flash.