But improvising was a challenge for some dancers.
Minnesota Dance Theatre’s performance at The Lab Theater on Friday night surveyed the landscape of human emotions in “Bach Cello Suites,” a collaborative effort with director Dominique Serrand of The Moving Company.
The work builds upon an improvisational structure that weaves moments of delicacy and dynamism. But the MDT dancers are not all naturally comfortable improvisers, so at times their attempts at spontaneity become too self-aware.
Set to six Bach compositions played live beautifully by world-class cellist Wilhelmina Smith, the piece grounds each section on a single word. For example, “Suite No. 1 in G Major, Sarabande” explores compassion and it is among the most organic points in the evening. The dancers, standing in a line, help one another move toward its front. Bodies slide along bodies, others are held aloft, another cartwheels into place. These are simple acts and yet the very essence of compassion (and later, when repeated, sorrow) shines through.
“Suite No. 5 in C Minor, Sarabande” focuses on falling and this is where the experiment loses momentum. The dancers can’t seem to really let go and so their hesitance stands out far more than any act of abandon that may come as a result of love, embarrassment or defeat. Interestingly, the next section set to “Suite No. 6 in D Major, Prelude,” which studies violence is much less inhibited. What that says about the roots of human impulse makes for an intriguing psychological question.
The evening also includes MDT artistic director Lise Houlton’s contemporary ballet “Rumblings” (2005). Class-act singers Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Bradley Greenwald, propelled by music director/composer/arranger Tom Linker, join the dancers for a tour through love and loss. Raina Gilliland entrances as she interplays with Baldwin Peden’s sly take on Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” and Greenwald tackles Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” inspiring Jeremy Bensussan, Sam Feipel, Kevin Iverson and Justin Leaf to soar. He also gives strong voice to Cyndi Lauper’s “Fearless,” an apt song for the trio of Katie Johnson, Gilliland and Feipel.
Perhaps the work is better viewed with an intermission, because performed straight through it becomes repetitive in its choreographic themes. The dancing is consistent but the emotional messages, taken in bulk, lose their punch. “Rumblings” does offer a rich journey, but one that meanders before reaching its destination.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.