Monday, May 12, 2014

TU Dance - 10th Anniversary Show

Photo credit:  Ingrid Werthmann

It was an easy decision to attend the 10th Anniversary Show of TU Dance at the Ordway.  I've taken some of their classes and danced alongside the talented and friendly company members at their Dance Center on University Ave. in St. Paul.  What is not so easy - trying to convey the style and scope of the performance that I experienced in a two-dimensional blog.  I will do my best.

TU Dance, founded by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands, has won numerous awards for their performances, educational contributions and community involvement in the Twin Cities. Their technique is Horton-based and both of them studied and performed extensively with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York.

Twin Cities
The first piece, Twin Cities, from Ailey's The River (1970), was a duet featuring Laurel Keen and Uri Sands.  It was exquisite.  After taking Laurel's ballet classes, it was a treat to watch her perform.  With long lines and sleek extensions the energy from her limbs seemed to go on forever.  And with Uri's smooth muscularity the two complimented each other and they danced apart and then came together in partnering sequences.  Together they seemed to represent different qualities and characteristics of a river - flowing, cascading, moving in unpredictable waves, criss-crossing, and then at the end, they were joined by the rest of the company who moved in unison like a wave rolling into the ocean.

Lady in performance, 2004
Photo credit by V. Paul Virtucio
Lady was a six-part work inspired by Toni and Uri's travels to South Africa.  The stage was set with strips of wood hanging down from the fly space.  Lots of great material.  Of what I remember, the first two pieces were performed by the Company and TU student dancers in street clothes.  There were moments where one solitary figure walked slowly across the stage while the rest of the group danced with quick steps and smooth rolling lines with their arms and legs.  At times the piece suggested community as dancers greeted each other with hugs or handshakes.

In one section a group of women danced together and one was singled out, possibly as the newcomer.  I enjoyed how the group of women formed a "pile" with each dancer taking turns climbing on top as the pile moved sideways across the stage.

In Behold My Heart Toni performed a breath-taking solo. I'd say more, but it was beyond words.   

Toni's solo was followed by "A" Distinction, all men, and a very athletic piece.  I remember thinking, I know this is choreographed, but it doesn't seem that way.  The piece felt spontaneous, fresh, and improvisational.

I loved Toni and Uri's duet Where is a Friend Like Jesus.  The first part was performed in silence, and it was as though their relationship determined the rhythm and pace of their movements. After watching a lot of modern dance performances, you think you know where a movement is going, but with these two, something unexpected happens - the curl of leg or a twist of a torso that creates a unique sequence or transforms an anticipated lift into a surprising dive.  Don't blink or you'll miss something. 

One, commissioned by Dance St. Louis in honor of Henrietta Lacks, (check out this link) was a mesmerizing piece of all women dressed in blue-gray dresses.  Silver buckets lined up at the back of the stage made shining streaks across the floor.  As I watched, I wrote down words like: long leaps, conflict, reaching, longing, risk-taking, supplication, openness and vulnerability.  As the dance progressed, I felt my heart beating faster with their multiple rolls on the floor that often switched directions, and then later, their bodies hunched over with hands shaking to the side.  A breakthrough occurred as glitter rained down from above.  They picked up their buckets and came forward.  The buckets swung in their hands as though they were being filled.

The Ordway-commissioned world premiere of Hikari was inspired by the work of master woodblock print artist Hiroki Morinoue.  In this piece dance meets woodcuts and nature - water and light.  Uri and Morinoue worked together to create a work based on the theme of light.  (Hikari means "light" in Japanese.)

The stage was set with sheer black fabric panels painted with white patterns.  Dancers wore white outfits and black socks.  Some moved in the shadows behind the panels.  Those out front moved fluidly through sustained falls, sometimes sliding across the floor in their socks.  Some executed sequences with rounded arms above the head and jerking torsos, while others walked as solitary figures in direct paths across the stage.  The larger movements seemed to come all the way out through their heads and limbs.

Sometimes I try to follow the logical patterns and progression of the choreography, but for this piece, being so complex, I could only accept it, enjoy it, and go with the flow.  Lots of variations in timing, fast rolling sequences alternating with slow movements or stillness. 

At the end of the piece, the whole group moved in unison with swaying motions, and then they began whispering as they filtered off the stage and the lights faded to black.

Talk Back
In the Talk Back after the performance, Uri stated that they wanted the program "to reflect what got us here, but not be retrospective."  It was also a look at "where we are today and where we want to go tomorrow."

For me, TU Dance was a great show that celebrated community, the arts and a vibrant future for the dance community. 

I would like to thank the Ordway Center for Performing Arts for this opportunity to review TU Dance.  For information about the Ordway go to or call  651-224-4222.

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