As TU Dance opens the first work of its spring concert, "For You," company member Kendra Dennard leads an audience member down the side aisle of the Cowles Center's Goodale Theater, across the front row and onto the stage. There he sits on a stool and watches as the dancers perform a work presented just for him.
That audience member serves as a stand-in for the rest of the people watching the show. The moment symbolizes how the dancers in "For You" reflect the generosity that TU Dance lavishes on its audiences. You don't need a dance background to enjoy this incredibly talented group of dancers performing their dynamic, emotionally riveting pieces.
In "For You," the dancers show off both their strength and their weightlessness. In the show's second piece, "Keep the Edges Wild," choreographed by Gregory Dolbashian, we see their prowess as they incorporate hip hop-inspired movement with so much fluidity they seem at times to be swimming.
The third piece, "The More Things Change," finds inspiration from classical singer Marian Anderson's iconic open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, performed after she was blocked from singing at Constitution Hall. The company dances in front of a set created by Roger Rosvold, made to look like those famous steps.
Set to Anderson's recorded singing voice, the work includes moments for individual members of the company to sparkle. Alanna Morris-Van Tassel and Demetrius McClendon show off their range — not just as proficient dancers, but performers who can tap into deep-seated emotion. Elayna Waxse and Darwin Black also display a passionate intensity in their duet, set to Anderson's rendition of "Ave Maria."
The work never really quite captures the epic struggle of the Civil Rights movement. Instead it investigates the more personal journeys of individuals, most successfully with McClendon's solo set to "Were You There?"
Two group pieces — "Belshazzar's Feast-Solitude" and "On Ma Journey" — capture a lightheartedness of people finding solidarity, but somehow it lacks the weight that the historical setting or more recent movements of change seem to require.
The concert concludes with last year's stunning "Hikari," set amid Hiroki Morinoue's breathtaking printed backdrops. On Friday's opening night performance, the triumphant work roused the audience to its feet in an exuberant standing ovation.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis writer.