Minnesota Dance Theatre showed two inclinations Friday night at the Cowles Center. One is to honor the artistic history of the 52-year-old company and the other is to break with ballet tradition.
It is possible to do both and for the most part MDT, under the direction of artistic director Lise Houlton, seems prepared to step into the future, albeit tentatively given the turmoil of recent months that saw the resignation of the troupe's entire board and the recent announcement of a new one.
Friday's program highlights included a series of duets from different choreographers.
"Trio á Deux" by Martine Van Hamel, who is an American Ballet Theatre alum like Houlton, demonstrates the very essence of elegance as interpreted through the thoughtful pairing of Katie Johnson and Justin Leaf. Raina Gilliland and guest artist Pierre Guilbault generate a restless and edgy feel in "Toccata in D Minor" by Alonzo King.
Another standout is "TrapHer KeepHer: 2nd Movement" by former New York City Ballet soloist Adam Hendrickson, performed by guest artists Kaitlyn Gilliland and Stephen Hanna. The pair of dancers, who also have NYCB roots, offer a particularly fine study in kinetic contrasts. Gilliland shines in the same work's "4th Movement" in which her unflappable demeanor is matched by a cool modernist choreographic approach.
"Frames/d" is a world premiere by Houlton in collaboration with Dane Stauffer and set to music by Mozart. The work is filled with nifty visual ideas — really too many — with the use of chain-link fencing in set pieces providing a gritty urban playground atmosphere that resonates more vibrantly than the work's vaudevillian moments. "Frames/d" hits its emotional mark when the contrast between captivity and independence is most pronounced. This is a dance with multiple personalities — pick one or two and it will leave a stronger impression.
The program also features two repertory selections from the late MDT founder Loyce Houlton.
"Alchemical Wedding" is weighed down by awkward partnering that appears to be the product of excessively adorned choreography rather than any fault of the dancers. On the other hand her "Pas de Deux Diabolus" performed by Helen Hatch and Jeremy Bensussan is an example of sensuous dance making at its best — spare, direct and dedicated to the pure unity of line two bodies can create.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.