It takes a special understanding to forge a meaningful link between the natural and human worlds. Gregory Colbert does so in spare yet beautiful photographs that balance the two realms in the most organic manner possible. His work is fitting inspiration for "Feather and Bone" by TU Dance, which premiered at the O'Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University in St. Paul on Friday night.
Sage award-winning choreographer Uri Sands (who directs the troupe with Toni Pierce-Sands) creates an intimate conversation between body, soul and the surrounding environment.
The piece unfolds in half-light (as if lifted from a black-and-white portrait), with the dancers initially performing in silence, their breaths the only sound. Music and songs from Bon Iver, Modeselektor and James Blake eventually add to the dreamy ambience, but the movement itself stays sculptural, its deliberate yet fluid approach broken up at times by tantrums with limbs pounding against the floor.
Both elements of the title are present in gorgeous juxtaposition -- the lightness of large, fluffy, white feathers set against the simple eloquence of nearly bare bodies, uninhibited and free, seeming to float across the stage.
"Feather and Bone" is an introspective, sometimes lonely, often philosophical work, all qualities increasingly present in Sands' repertory. He is drawn to the big questions about existence but doesn't try to provide all the answers -- in fact, he generates more queries, as inquiring minds do. With this debut and 2010's subtle satire on faith, "Amusement of the Gods," also part of the program, he focuses on just a few aspects of life's journey -- relationships, interconnectivity, belief, disillusionment -- and finds much to ponder. Sands continues to impress with his thoughtful themes and daring choreographic vision, one that builds upon -- and simultaneously evolves away from -- his roots as a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
The show includes 2009's "Earth," which now feels like an appropriate companion piece to "Feather and Bone." The dancers tap into John Richardson's music, their torsos pulsing and their flying feet in constant motion, seemingly rolling across the terra firma under the spell of an ancient yet powerful rhythm. And rounding out the evening is guest choreographer Camille A. Brown's exciting guitar-driven "Strum" (2012), featuring the liquid Lucas Melsha. In this and the other works, all of the TU dancers (particularly the quicksilver Alanna Morris) display a considerable range of individual and collective strengths.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.