It was all work and a lot of play in TU Dance's fall concert at the O'Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University in St. Paul this weekend. Choreographer Uri Sands, who co-founded the company with Toni Pierce-Sands, unveiled two world premieres featuring a potent combination of rich subject matter and vibrant movement. The future looks bright for the six-year-old troupe, which is preparing to open a new dance studio in St. Paul.
"Amusement of the Gods" pokes fun at the fervency of worship but also provokes serious meditations on the purpose of faith. The dancers enter with hands clasped, legs in a wide stance, knees bent, heads turning to face every possible direction. They are seekers in search of someone to adore. Drapes hanging at one side of the stage draw the group's focus and they deliver offerings with an anxious pace. The Wizard of Oz's admonition not to look at the man behind the curtain springs to mind, which also speaks to the signs of disillusionment and dissension that eventually emerge from the group's ecstatic state.
Sands often fuses contemporary dance and African-based movement elements in his choreography. Here, he discerns a certain balance between the earthbound and the heavenly that emphasizes both the comical and philosophical aspects of the work. Are humanity's obsessive attempts to please ultimately a source of entertainment for whatever higher power may exist? Wisely, Sands doesn't try to answer this age-old question, but he offers plenty to ponder in the witty and profound "Amusement."
"Workforce" is about the daily grind, but there's nothing dull or repetitious in this high-energy romp set to Moodymann's club groove. Sands injects street dancing and vogueing into the global mix, to the point that "you better work" should become the operative mantra. Guest artist Yusha Marie Sorzano was especially fierce whenever she took the spotlight.
The program also includes the company premiere of "Long Way Back," which Sands choreographed for Zenon Dance Company in 2006. This reflective work is shaded with muted tones but develops a deep emotional resonance as it progresses. 2004's "Sweet Tea" featured Sands, Pierce-Sands and Sorzano in a seamlessly smooth trio set to John Coltrane. Seeing these performers dance together is to witness the very definition of sublime.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.