A clap of thunder and the sound of howling winds hailed the four dancers who appeared out of darkness, emerging into the spotlight upstage at Point Park University's George Rowland White Performance Studio. The startling opening of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Cooper Verona's "Very Instinctual" set the tone for an impressive ballet packed with surprises. The work opened the Conservatory Dance Company's stellar program, Contemporary Choreographers.
Set to a dramatic score by Michael Gordon, the ballet's 10 dancers seemed to embody a mix of opposing character types, some primal, others refined; the dichotomy suggested a predator-prey relationship. Whatever the deeper meaning, the ballet was well crafted and innovative and showed Verona to be a choreographer of great promise. Highlighting the adroitly danced ballet was the captivating performance of Jocelyn Wright in a quiet, graceful solo.
Next, Oscar Carrillo and Nina Newkirk performed Patrick Franz's 1980 pas de deux "Celcius." The genteel ballet had a traditional Japanese feel to it, structured and formal. It showed two lovers methodically coming to terms with the nature of their relationship.
Robert Battle's driving contemporary-jazz dance "Rush Hour" concluded the program's first half. The abstract work depicting the frenetic pace of urban commuter life, featured a large group of dancers in factory-worker grab stomping and marching about the stage in sharp, angular choreography punctuated by stiff-legged and arrow-straight arm movements.
"Delectably bifurcated" describes Jessica Lang's "La Belle Danse." One moment, its dancers engaged in pretty, joyous movement, a la a Gerald Arpino ballet; the next, they seemed to be channeling Paul Taylor's "Esplanade," with women jumping into their male partners' arms in seated positions. Both aspects worked tastefully together.
The program closed with Christopher Huggins' "Enemy Behind the Gates," a work that has become synonymous with Philadelphia super-troupe Philadanco. The relentless, show-stopping piece depicts a militaristic society panicked on the verge of a doomsday scenario. CDC's performance of it was energetic and deft.
For what is ostensibly a professional dance company in the guise of a student troupe, CDC's Contemporary Choreographers was a triumph of fabulous dancing and great dance works.