Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater celebrated its 35th anniversary Friday night with a retrospective concert at the Cowles Center. Led by artistic co-directors Pimsler and Suzanne Costello, the company dug deep into its repertory to explore a rich range of emotion, from grief and fear to unabashed happiness.

The evening closed with “Sentry,” so that may explain why it reverberates the most in memory, but it is also a powerful work about humanity and battle that transcends the era of its making.

Created in 1983, reprised in the aftermath of the second Iraq war and now considered in the context of an endless war on terrorism, the piece draws upon the sentry’s rules (recited in French by Roxane Wallace-Patterson).

The code is dedicated to honor and duty but as the work descends from order into chaos it is really a comment on futility in the face of insurmountable challenges. Wallace-Patterson holds tight to her discipline, until she can no longer afford to do so. It’s a stirring performance from the 13-year SPDT veteran.

Pimsler choreographed “Swimming to Cecile” in 1988 as a tribute to his late mother and it remains a poignant meditation on love and loss. The work unfolds within a swimming-pool-inspired set, and Costello, beautifully coifed, talks about trying to swim every day, first saying it in a matter-of-fact way and then becoming anxious. It’s a desperate desire to keep her head above water.

Kari Mosel and Heather Klopchin, both standout SPDT dancers, join Costello in dancing infused with the fluid motions of swimming and breathing. It’s a melancholy piece, yet has hope. At the end, Costello, dressed in a white bathing suit and bathed in golden light, leads the way into the peacefulness of another realm.

An excerpt from “Out of this World/The Life after Life Project” (1997-2001), a community-based endeavor made with caregivers around the country, also was included. But the glimpse was too brief to give a sense of the whole.

Other favorites, “Joy” (1988) and “The Men From the Boys” (1990) are classic works showcasing Pimsler’s wry, self-deprecating and intellectually rich responses to the antagonists of our inner voices.

“Joy,” in particular, is all about the unlikely journeys that ultimately lead us to the place we are supposed to be.


Caroline Palmer writes about dance.