Sometimes you just gotta say “wow.”

On Friday night at the Cowles Center, TU Dance gave the performance of its decade-long history. The two world premieres are stunning and the repertory selections are equally strong. While artistic directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands always maintain a commitment to excellence, this program is a standout for its uniformly top-notch dancing and visionary approach.

With “If And Or,” New York-based choreographer Dwight Rhoden issued a kinetic challenge. It’s an eccentric work in some ways, from the bright green amphibian-like costumes to the occasionally off-putting sound collage. The movement ideas thrill with mathematical precision, seamless spatial changes and an uncanny sense of illusion. The dancers shine in this bold effort showcasing Rhoden’s intricate craft and TU’s ever-expanding abilities as an ensemble.

“Keep the Edges Wild” from Gregory Dolbashian, another New Yorker, is as rounded and liquid as Rhoden’s work is laser-sharp. The choreography fascinates for its hybrid mix of hip hop and modern dance, but in truth there are many elements that transcend categorization. Dolbashian is on to something different in the way he transfers the dancers — particularly Darwin Black — into molten forces on the stage. It’s distinct and highly relevant for the 21st century.

The 2007 duet “Rasa” by San Francisco’s Alonzo King is a sensual journey about survival. Ably interpreted by Katelyn Skelley and Duncan Schultz, the work evokes an almost spiritual quest through its arid atmosphere and stirring music by Zakir Hussain. Skelley and Schultz propel each other through King’s delicately intimate choreography, but in a quiet way — each may be keeping the other alive.

The evening ends with 2012’s “January (Part 2)” by TU’s Sands, a folk dance for the apocalypse. The dancers are androgynous, their heads covered with skull caps, their bodies moving in the same hunched, loping manner. The work haunts for its foreshadowing of a bleak future, but it also hints at a harsh medieval past. And it provokes so many questions — who is this tribe? What evolutionary quirk shaped their bodies in such an unusual way?

No matter the answers, the dancers move with preternatural speed and feral impetus — they keep changing the story so there’s no time to ponder the reasons behind it. The experience exists in the moment — and what an exciting one it is.


Caroline Palmer writes about dance.