Minnesota Dance Theatre’s “Fierce/Feminine: Dance by Women Choreographers” program at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis this weekend doesn’t really live up to its title. There are works of interest but are they that intense? Not really. Still, don’t be mistaken: The pieces by Emery LeCrone, MDT founder Loyce Houlton and Joanie Smith/Danial Shapiro are not tentative either — there are distinct points of view here, each assured a place within the evolution of contemporary ballet.
New York-based LeCrone is a choreographer in high demand these days and the show features two of her works. “Aria” (2012) is performed by Kaitlyn Gilliland, a daughter of MDT’s artistic director Lise Houlton and a former dancer with New York City Ballet. Gilliland is bathed in yellow light (by Michael Murnane), and LeCrone’s streamlined movement, defined by slinking steps and an elegantly energized back, only enhances the sense of silky luminosity. It all ends too abruptly, however, before a dramatic arc is fully realized.
“Sonata No. 5 in D Major” is an airy world premiere from LeCrone that delves deeply into the intricacies of its accompanying Beethoven score. While the piece could use more emotional variation LeCrone draws out particularly fine performances from the MDT members, especially Katie Johnson and Justin Leaf, who imbue their dancing with a gentle strength and assured maturity. In this smart examination of lyrical structure, these two best demonstrate the delicate act of losing oneself in the moment, without ever losing control.
The evening also includes “Kaitlyn, Katie & Sam” which is based on 2001’s “The Portrait Project” developed by Smith and Shapiro for MDT alumni Lise Houlton (the current artistic director), Toni Pierce-Sands and Erin Thompson. The latest incarnation of the work features Gilliland along with Sam Feipel and Johnson. It’s a playful look at competitive camaraderie, and Feipel seems most at home of the three with the vaudevillian interactions.
Loyce Houlton’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” (1976) offers a glimpse into a peaceful moment, albeit one broken up by the appearances of jester-like clowns (Johnson and guest artist Stephen Schroeder) who foreshadow some tragedy. The work has an existential angst about it that is strange and dated but also weirdly compelling. Soprano Jennifer Baldwin Peden accompanies the goings-on with her crystal clear voice set to a live performance of the Samuel Barber composition by pianist Barbara Brooks.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.