Sewell dancers push the envelope

  • Article by: CAROLINE PALMER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2011 - 12:53 PM

DANCE REVIEW Ballet program includes works fueled by punk rock, hip-hop and West African movement.

Nic Lincoln in the Ballet Works Project by James Sewell Ballet.

The "Ballet Works Project" is an annual opportunity for James Sewell Ballet to introduce experimental perspectives into the troupe's repertory. Often fresh viewpoints come from outside the company but Sewell also seeks inspiration from within, as seen in two pieces on this weekend's program: Chris Hannon's madcap "things fall apart" and Nic Lincoln's enthralling solo performance in guest choreographer Judith Howard's "Dressage."

Hannon's dancing has an edge to it, the type of combustible energy found in a mosh pit. He channels this animated vibe into a ska-punk fueled dance adventure for a cast of partygoers (Penelope Freeh, Leah Gallas, Cory Goei, Eve Schulte and Lincoln) haunted by a pair of shadowy, occasionally snarky figures (Hannon and Sally Rousse). The work rolls along with the freewheeling mischief of a hipster cartoon.

"Dressage," as the title implies, has an equine theme. Lincoln emerges from a pile of luxurious fabric, blinking as if new to the world, wearing a sequined thong and fishnet stockings. He slips his feet into a pair of seriously high heels and suddenly he's half-horse/half-man, clip-clopping, doing the pony, proudly posing. Howard's choreography skillfully delves into the art of transformation, the dynamics of seduction, and the mystery of animal beauty. Lincoln owns the stage like a Secretariat in stilletos.

The evening also includes Kenna-Camara Cottman's "Prime," an exploration of hip- hop and West African movement in relation to ballet. More commonalities are revealed than expected, especially as the different styles simultaneously ripple through the dancers' limbs and hips. The organic sense of flow loses momentum midway through, although the final minutes show recovery in strong ensemble movement.

New York-based choreographer Patrick Corbin (formerly of Joffrey Ballet and Paul Taylor Dance Company) calls his work "Sank Cease Set Wheat," a play in French on a familiar rhythm count (5,6,7,8). The piece, however, is more overtly about kinetic discussions that occur between bodies in motion, especially those involving the eloquent hands. "Sank" is at its best when the dancers seem to invent a complex new language known only to one another but is less interesting when it slips into individual introspection.

Sewell's solo, "Body Puzzle," draws upon his strength as a showman. A polyrhythmic game that evolves into a dance, the work proves just how fascinatingly strange the body-mind relationship can be.

Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.

  • JAMES SEWELL BALLET

    What: Ballet Works Project

    When: 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 and 7 p.m. Sun.

    Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: 24-$26, 612-340-1725 or southerntheater.org

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