From pastoral landscapes to post-internet investigations and formal explorations, James Sewell Ballet’s fall showcase, “Dynamic Rhythms,” showed off new dancers who brought a fresh energy to two repertory works by James Sewell and a new piece by guest choreographer Darrius Strong.
The evening at the Cowles Center began with Sewell’s “Appalachia Waltz,” set to six songs from Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor’s album of the same name. Sewell evokes a sense of place in the piece, especially during the titular first song, where the dancers bask in a presumably gorgeous landscape they see around them.
Inventing games such as shaking their elbows in the air, or touching their feet to one another, they roll around, sit on each other’s knees, and generally look carefree as they enjoy their natural surroundings.
Later, they become both farmers and farm, cultivating, nurturing and growing. Apprentice Arimee Gambill and new ensemble member Jayson Douglas danced a sentimental duet, which was followed by a rigorous solo with lots of hearty leaps performed on opening night by newcomer Da’Rius Malone.
“Star of the County Down” featured a lovely trio, and the first of several gorgeous silhouettes in the show created by lighting designer Kevin A. Jones. The piece concluded with a circle dance, set to “The Green Grove of Erin/The Flowers of Red Hill,” which nodded to folk dancing traditions.
Strong’s world premiere, “I See You,” took the mood in a completely different direction. In contrast to the first piece’s idyllic landscape, Strong creates a gritty, industrial world, thanks in part to Stefon “Bionik” Taylor’s harsh-sounding score.
Strong employs sharp movements and a quick internal pulse in the hip-hop-informed piece.
A throbbing anxiety pervades the dancers’ bodies as they undulate, jab, and move through space in electric blue outfits. Full-length mirrors used as props highlight Strong’s thematic explorations into narcissism, isolation and disconnection.
The work felt timely, especially in our age of social media. At the same time, the performers engaged in quite a bit of mugging. They relied too much on facial expression, rather than allowing the choreography to speak for itself, and at times seemed to be overacting.
The evening concluded with Sewell’s “Moving Works,” a piece that constructs pleasing shapes and imagery. Sewell himself danced in the piece opening night, though he wasn’t credited in the program. His acrobatic moves were quite admirable.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.