Eight dancers sit lackadaisically upstage, wearing cutout T-shirts and loose, patterned pants, looking like they've all been smoking weed at a party in a basement apartment. Their backs face the audience, and they lie down and sit up again, gradually moving downstage, as they sway from side to side, jamming to the rhythm of rave music and eventually getting in sync with each other.
The dancers' moves are in fact highly skilled, but what you notice most is a desire within yourself to get up on stage and start dancing with them.
This piece ("..thWUmp.."), by choreographer Erinn Liebhard, is part of the "Rhythmically Speaking" showcase of jazz and American vernacular dance, organized by Liebhard and running through Sunday at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.
At their best, the seven works here by seven choreographers succeed when the dancers look like they simply are enjoying themselves. There are complicated rhythms and choreography involved, certainly, but the dancing soars when the music flows through the dancers and ignites them.
The outstanding piece is "In a Heartbeat," by Los Angeles-based choreographer Pat Taylor of JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble. Taylor's selection of experimental jazz music provides the soundscape to dancing that pops with polyrhythmic sizzle. The movement integrates breath quite deliberately, so much so that it suggests an allusion to Eric Garner's dying words, "I can't breathe."
Karla Grotting's clogging piece "Hope Chest" stands out as well, with a lovely performance by folk singer Natalie Nowytski, though an odd choice of props and set — the performers awkwardly push a baby doll on a tree swing — almost sabotages the otherwise well-conceived work.
There's even a "Stomp"-like piece, with dancers using their feet, hands and bouncy balls as percussive instruments. Set in a gym, complete with imaginary treadmills, Rush Benson's playful exploration of competition offers pure enjoyment.
The two large group pieces that bookend the evening, "Spirited" by Rachel (Rae) Charles, and "All Together Now" by Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, show off the Southern Theater's gorgeously expansive space. Both choreographers make the stage come alive with sweeping, electrifying moments. Meanwhile Laura Selle Virtucio's solo work "Lonely Refrain" shows how someone who truly knows a theater intimately can make it like a partner, enlivening it with the help of Nina Simone's soulful rasping voice.
Sheila Regan is a Twin Cities dance critic and arts journalist.