TU Dance triumphed at the Ordway in St. Paul on Saturday. Between works of spiritually uplifting grandeur and politically charged emotion, intimate demonstrations of highly technical skill and incredible ensemble work, the evening — which included a world premiere and three recent repertory pieces — took the audience for a sweeping ride.
The Ordway co-commissioned Ronald K. Brown's premiere, "Where The Light Shines Through," along with the Rosemary and David Good Family Foundation. It featured a rare solo by TU's co-Artistic Director Uri Sands, who demonstrated his incredible polyrhythmic genius. With arms and shoulders, knees, hips and feet all going in different directions and at different speeds, Sands brought joy and vivacity to Brown's West African-influenced movement.
Even in the most complicated sequences, the dancers in the piece made their work appear effortless. They were dressed in luxuriously ornamented costumes designed by Keiko Voltaire, which added to the work's sense of ceremony.
Countering Brown's hopeful and spirited work, Sands' "Matter," which premiered in 2016, went to much darker and more sinister places.
Teeming with bare symbolism, Sands unleashed a raw declaration as he explored America's violent history in regards to race.
Dancers were draped in American flags. A giant image of the White House slowly shrank from view. The dancers simulated getting beaten, holding their hands to protect their faces. They grapevined, backs to the audience, in slow motion across the stage, as if targets in a shooting range. Through the hip-hop-influenced choreography and a devastating solo by Alanna Morris-Van Tassel, "Matter" spoke to brutal realities that persist in our society.
The two other pieces — "Footprint" by Gioconda Barbuto and the dancers from 2015, and "Candle" by Kyle Abraham, which premiered in 2016, highlighted TU's magnificent work as an ensemble and their unparalleled individual dancers.
"Footprint" showed the ensemble at its best. With its jazzy, brooding beginning, the dancers slid, snapped and spiraled. They were then affected by a sickness. The contorted movements of one infected the others. The movements spread from one dancer to another like wildfire. Dressed in kilts and futuristic wear designed by Sonya Berlovitz in collaboration with choreographer and co-Artistic Director Toni Pierce-Sands, they moved as an amorphous whole.
"Candle," meanwhile, gave the opportunity for some of TU's top dancers to truly show their luster. Alexis Staley gave a mesmerizing performance, while Randall Riley and Christian Warner proved a delight in a duet that showed that despite their vastly varying heights, they were born to perform with each other.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer.