Minnesota Dance Theatre took to the Cowles Center stage on Friday night and hinted at an evolving creative direction. Two world premieres offer strong evidence that the 51-year-old contemporary ballet troupe is on the verge of taking some bold leaps into the future.
“Edifice Wrecks,” created by artistic director Lise Houlton with Dane Stauffer and the ensemble, unfolds in an environment with shifting set pieces defined by doorways that serve as metaphors for the entry — and exit — of opportunities. Helen Hatch bolts through these portals while Raina Gilliland slinks along their edges. Carlie Clemmerson and Juliet Prine discover their doppelgängers in the curious mirroring movements of Katie Deuitch and Amanda DeVenuta.
Humor and mystery are natural dance partners in this clever work, one that explores how chance encounters can develop into something more meaningful. A sensual duet for Gilliland and Sam Feipel, defined by the former’s serpentine arms, is a particularly fine example of this premise.
New associate artistic director Charles Askegard’s “Serenade for Two” is set to “Serenade in A” by Igor Stravinsky and performed live by pianist Tom Linker. Perhaps the music’s tone is to blame, but the work — danced by guest artists Kaitlyn Gilliland and Clifford Williams — struggles against a laborious feeling in its first few minutes.
As the tempo shifts and elevates, though, the dancing becomes much more nimble and even mesmerizing at times, particularly when this highly skilled duo (Gilliland performed with New York City Ballet, Williams with Dwight Rhoden’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet) follow a series of complicated patterns that wind through footwork and turns with mathematical precision. It is in these moments that Askegard showcases his dancers at the height of their virtuosic powers.
The program also includes MDT founder Loyce Houlton’s “Boccherini Dances” (1985), a classic romp that often soars. Sage award-winner Katie Johnson delivers yet another inspiring performance with dancing that stands out for its technical integrity and overall joie de vivre.
Eliot Feld’s “A Stair Dance” (2004) rounds out the evening. Hopefully Deuitch, Feipel, Hatch, Johnson and Justin Leaf have massage tables awaiting them, because this homage to tap dancer Gregory Hines (set to music by Steve Reich) is the choreographic equivalent of a StairMaster from hell. Up and down, side to side, up and over, the dancers tackle this brainteaser-in-motion and triumph.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.