In the most ambitious of three works by James Sewell Ballet being presented at Cowles Center in Minneapolis, the troupe revives "Lover," which had its premiere in 2002 and was last staged eight years ago.
This staging ups the ante for audiences — the piece's Rodgers and Hart songs are performed not in a recording, but live, by pianist Dan Chouinard and singers Maria Jette and Bradley Greenwald. While it's a delight to see that spirited, talented musical trio, having them all on stage, and even doing bits of acting, takes getting used to, as we don't know whether to focus on them or the dancers.
Oh, heck, let's just soak it all in. Most of Sewell's choreography is for three duos in various combos, although a couple of swells in eveningwear (Sally Rousse and Anton LaMon) come and go. With a city-silhouette backdrop and a few Depression-era details, such as a bonfire in an ashcan, the dance draws from jazz, tap, ballroom and 1930s Broadway style. Leah Gallas and Nic Lincoln have spirited, balletic solo turns.
Eve Schulte is the woman mistreated by heel Chris Hannon in the most dramatic number. There's a crowd-pleasing full-troupe dance to "The Blue Room." Jette goes all Betty Boop on one tune, and later sings a terrific rendition of the wonderful working-gal's lament "10 Cents a Dance."
Sewell neatly pulls off the trick of balancing these classic American tunes with live singers and an enthusiastic ensemble of period-costumed dancers.
Lincoln billboards his inner diva in "Glitter Garden," a tour-de-force made for him by New York choreographer Larry Keigwin. Lincoln gets catcalls when he strips from streetwear to briefs, then dons a gladiator skirt in black patent leather. To a beats-heavy score, he at first anchors himself downstage left in a series of fast, extended-arm and shoulder moves reminiscent of an Olympic diver on the board.
What follows, in a stirring, all-too-brief piece, manages to find unity in moves ranging from grands jetés to voguing, club, modern and Kabuki.
Sewell has never balked at employing a gimmick, and it works beautifully in "Your Move." Audience members are seen in pre-taped videos offering a short "signature" move. Below them, seven dancers outfitted in sneakers and sporty togs take cues from those moves, then extend and expand them.
Despite some tonal shifts (the music and lighting are mostly minor-key, while the videos tend to elicit laughs), this piece soon morphs from a class exercise to a joyous, full-blooded, gymnastic sonata that raises questions about where movement originates and how art can develop a simple idea into something much more.