Review: MDT’s Fall Repertory

Joe Kellen

If you look at the front display of the Cowles Center at the right angle, it illuminates the entire block. It’s sort of insane how the marquis’ colors blend together, shining on the building and the sidewalk beneath it, almost reaching out to pull in passersby. Minnesota Dance Theater only added on to the magnetic force of the building Friday evening. I was able to catch the second weekend of their 2013 Fall Repertory, and it did not disappoint. Since the evening contained four wildly different pieces, I’ll divide the review into four sections following the chronological order of the dances.

I. “Boccherini Dances”

Choreographed by MDT’s founder, Loyce Houlton, this piece premiered in 1985 and was remounted for this year’s repertory. It was more traditional compared to the other dances (tights, tutus, the like) and had a classic sense of elegance. The company looked gorgeous working through a combination of rigid technique and modern, expressive presentation. I often caught my eyes widening at the fantastic lifts that were peppered throughout the piece. Ballerinas appeared to float in the air when their partners pulled them up, their bodies maintaining one shape for a considerable period of time. It was all sublimely symmetrical, but there were moments when the piece felt dated. While the ensemble’s work was admirable, I was craving something a little more contemporary after the curtain went down.

II. “Edifice Wrecks”

And boy, did I get it. Created by artistic director Lise Houlton, playwright/actor Dane Stauffer and the company of dancers, “Edifice Wrecks” changed the mood of the evening. It was a charming mixture of dance and theater. Even though there wasn’t any spoken text, the ensemble created power dynamics between every performer on stage. This was evident in the way they moved — each step was reactionary to the step that came before it, whether that was a cowering roll or a triumphant leap. Every move felt playful and it was clear that the dancers were having a ball with the material. Hypnotic, almost-narrative and full of life, “Edifice Wrecks” won me over with its exploration of what a group of bodies on stage can delineate to an audience.

III.”Serenade for Two”

New associate artistic director Charles Askegard’s piece blew me away. Set to Stravinsky’s “Serenade in A,” the dance featured two performers and a pianist accompanying them on stage. Their choreography included stunning flexibility and effortless technique — the tension between them was perfectly balanced. Watching them flip over one another and take their respective solos displayed so much more than just physical talent, too. There was a palpable romantic connection on stage that fluctuated through varying levels of passion. The level of commitment to the dance was beyond 100 percent for the entirety of the piece, which was impressive due to the intensity of the choreography. Askegard’s combination of beautiful music and rhapsodical movement made for a brilliant piece.

IV. “A Stair Dance” (watch this. It’s crazy.)

When I saw five dancers appear on stage with calisthenics costumes straight out of an ‘80s workout video, I was amused. Then I was impressed. Then I was astounded. Eliot Feld’s choreography, set to a repetitive, minimalist score by Steve Reich, features a staircase. Like the music, the dance repeats a pattern of movements going up, down and across the staircase. I can only imagine how hard their thighs were burning, because this dance was anything but undemanding. These dancers were running without a break for the entirety of the dance, weaving in between one another and continuing the pattern, adding on extra bits of choreography as the piece went on. Not only was this dance entertaining to watch, it was impossible to ignore. Just by that virtue, I’d have to say that this piece was my favorite of the evening —  you can’t really beat sweatbands and a good stair-climbing sesh.