Saturday, April 13, 2013


By Nancy Condit

The University of Oklahoma's Contemporary Dance Oklahoma presented a memorable evening of modern dance and modern ballet Friday night. Choreographers artist in residence Donald McKayle, and faculty members Austin Hartel, and Derrick Minter presented exciting works with well trained students.
Performances continue at 8 p.m. April 13 and at 3 p.m. on April 14, in the Rupel J. Jones Theatre, 563 Elm Street, Norman.  

"Suite Ellington," choreographed by Derrick Minter, was an elegant, beautiful barefoot ballet, set to Duke Ellington's music, that combined multiple forms of dance -- classical ballet, a move or two of street dance, and modern dance. Minter has taken a new look at partnering, allowing a woman to support her strong male partner, and, in the second section when two men fail to hook up with the ladies, the guys spend a buddies night out, partnering each other with moves that once might have been regarded as reserved for women, but now seem appropriate for men too. One of the most beautiful moves in the third section, with the entire company, were both the men and the women's spins with arms curved down to the fingertips. That created the illusion of spinning tops. The yellow and cream women's costumes enhanced a classic Greek effect set by "pillars" of hanging gathered fabric. Costume design was by Jenava Burguiere. Lighting was done by F. Leahe Knott.

Austin Hartel has a wonderful sense of Aaron Robinson's original music in "Syncopated." The dancers moved with and against the music's beat. While Hartel is quoted in the press release as saying, "This work explores, in a non-narrative sense, the ritualistic nature of our lives, communities and relationships through powerful, dynamic movement.  Sometimes repetitive, and at times relying heavily on others we go through our lives in a search of a greater understanding," it also includes modern and ethnic moves, at times breaking out of the repetitive.

"Working Flesh," was a collaboration between choreographer Hartel, performer Dr. Stefan Ice from the School of Music faculty, who was unable to perform Friday night, and University theatre designer Rick Reeves, who designed a video environment to compliment the dance. Ice was unable to perform, but "EDGE(Corrugated Box)," for multi-percussion and tap, written by Bruce Hamilton, was effectively modern and edgy. Reeves' set added a welcome dimension at it echoed and televised different aspects of the dance.

Hartel's choreography was a wonderful combination of dancers moving as partners in organic forms on the stage, and a couple on a raised box. Hartel used bodies to form shapes and forms like one supporting two others while they stretch or reach out. The couple who had been on the box, once on the stage, the woman who had sat on his back rolled over his head and slowly descended to stand on the stage -- a lovely example of control and strength.

Guest artist in residence choreographer Donald McKayle's "Songs of the Disinherited (Excerpts)," premiered in 1972, and staged by Stephanie Powell, was a hopeful piece especially notable for "Angelitos Negros." The piece was performed in Spanish by a single woman in a white flamenco dress, using modern and Spanish dance moves to music by Manuel Alvarez Maciste, with piano and vocals by Roberta Flack.

The song is:
Painter born in my native land and with the foreign brush
Painter that continues the course of all the painters of old
Though the Virgin may be white, paint black angels for me.
Why do you deprecate those of your color,
If you know that in heaven God also loves them?
Painter of saints in alcoves, if you have a soul in your body
Why have you forgotten blacks in your paintings?
Every time you paint a church you paint beautiful angels
But never do you remember to paint a black angel.

The reason for its hopefulness? It ends with the dance "Shaker Life," with music for it by Rickie Havens Stormy and vocals by The Voices of East Harlem, turned into an urban hymn. And because dances that are part of the history of dance and the history of culture are being restaged and, therefore, preserved.

"Kayle's sensibilities were formed by the theatrical dance of the 1950s. A humanistic choreographer, he uses narratives and deals with potent emotion conveyed through dramatic characters. At times his stories are specific to the African-American experience, ... but his choreography is universal in its implications," from Great Performances website.

Tickets prices for Contemporary Dance Oklahoma are $22 for adults and $18 for senior adults, OU faculty, and staff and military, and $14 for students. For tickets and accommodations on the basis of disability, please call the OU Fine Arts Box Office at (405) 325-4101.

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