Thursday, March 15, 2012


By Nancy Condit

The student dance company, choreographers and director Austin Hartel and associate director Derrick Minter gave last Saturday’s nearly full house at OU’s Rupel Jones Theatre an excellent and humorous evening of contemporary dance.  The company was strong and capable, and the works were mostly excellent. It was an evening of original works by OU faculty members well worth attending, with choreographers and dancers taking chances.  That’s always the point of art, especially at a university where dancers and choreographers are being trained and given the opportunity to experience all types of dance.

 Three of them were choreographed by Hartel, who was a soloist and choreographer for Pilobolus Dance Company for five years, and Minter, whose work “Forever in a Day” was performed in Kyoto under a different name, and extended into the dance performed last weekend, continues his affiliation with Ailey II as a teaching artist of the Dance Foundation.

The hit of the evening was Hartel’s new work choreographed in collaboration with the dancers, The Sorcerer’s Apprentic, music by Paul Dukas.  Performed in conjunction with the Fred Jones  Museum of Art’s exhibit “A Century of Magic: The Animation of Walt Disney.  As the music went into da da bump de bump de bump de bump, the white clad figures raised to crouches, and bounced their backsides it time with the music.  It was hilarious – everything a beginning ballet student had been told not to do at the Peabody Conservatory.  The sorcerer had awakened lifeless creatures, highlighted by black light, to be dragged as they relaxed, across the stage by invisible forces, swung by an arm and a leg in circles in a figure skating move, and moon walking. Most interesting was the partnerless appearing classic ballet lift of a woman, which appeared ungainly when it was separated from the costumes, sets, and partner. 

Bicuspid, choreographed by Hartel in 1987, “when we were very big on breaking the gender barrier,” he said in a press release, was remarkable for breaking that barrier – not only that women could dance men’s roles, but also that they could be supporting partners.  While this reviewer has seen this done before, this dance underscores the huge change from the delicate appearing ballerina being supported by the male ballet dancer a la Balanchine.  Elyse Andersen and Diana Robertson completely lifted each other in this dance, one even carrying the other in her arms.  The tank topped mid-thighed unisex brilliant orange leotard added to the dance’s impact.  Music was by Nick Holmes.

Minter’s Forever In a Day, music by Bobby McFerrin, was the story of five people on three park benches.  The first couple was completely in synch, and in love.  The first solo man, dressed Bo Jangles ragtime style, performed break dancing moves, including standing on his head, which were incorporated into contemporary dance. There was the Betty Boop style woman, cute sexy, wearing a flippy skirted dress, and the sophisticated woman who moved like Jessica Rabbit, wearing a huge hat and moving without an angle in her body.  Her sinuousness spoke more of money than of sex, although the two were definite competitors.  What was very effective was that the women walked in heels, but barefoot, on demi-point, on the balls of their feet.  Everyone threw off their stylized characters to help another man in grief on a third bench.

Hartel’s On the Rim, choreographed in 2006, was a day in the life of the Grand Canyon to Ferde Grofe’s  “Grand Canyon Suite.”  It was filled with one person creatures, including those that cartwheeled as the sun came up.  Two people, standing for the Native Americans, Spaniards or others who inhabited the canyon, embraced as the sun came up.  The two person burrows were particularly effective and funny, as one person put their hands on the knees of the person under them, and they moved forward on their four legs.
One of the final moves was a pirouette by a figure with its torso stretched upward, crouched on one demi-point foot.  The changing light during the day reflected very well off the inflated clear plastic cut to resemble the canyon walls. The dance ended with a rotating figure clad in a hooded leotard, studded with small mirrors reflecting light around the  theater.  The starry night had come.

The dancers performed Minter’s Indelible Grace: A Tribute to 9/11 well. Music was by Ennio Morricone, Michael Gordon, Arvo Part, and Larnelle Harris. Because of this reviewer’s continuing reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing, she feels unable to objectively review this dance.  The following is from the press release, Minter’s new ballet is a moving tribute to 9/11 and how events that day changed America.  During the work, dancers took the audience through emotionally diverse moments of the loss of friends and family.  Minter’s work aimed to remember those involved in the tragedy, to reflect on actions that happened during the day, and to rebuild the lives of those affected.  Scenic elements included a flight of stairs and an elevator, as well as an image of the New York City skyline.

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