As in previous annual incarnations, the Conservatory Dance Company's 2009 Pittsburgh Connections program featured dance works by choreographers with ties to the city. And as in the past, the program connected positively with its audience in quality dance works performed by Point Park's student troupe of versatile and capable dancers.
The program kicked off with choreographer and former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer Jeffery Bullock's neoclassical ballet "Trio for Four." Set to excerpts from Tchaikovsky's "Piano Trio in A, Op. 50," Bullock's ballet was as bright, buoyant and pleasing as the music it was danced to. His choreography smoothly combined a variety of movement patterns and dancer configurations into a delectable and unpredictable ballet that showcased everything from courtly group dancing to springy solo work. CDC's quartet of dancers performed the ballet solidly and with youthful vigor.
While Bullock's airy ballet seemed to skim the surface of an emotional connection between dancer and dance, Point Park alumna Marissa Balzer's "Things Behind the Sun" dove deep, bathing its three dancer couples in varying states of desire. Danced to five wistful songs by late British singer-songwriter Nick Drake, Balzer's smart and quirky contemporary dance had its performers dipping and folding their bodies into movement that tumbled to the ground.
The dancers also pushed at and brushed up against one another, creating moments of tenderness that pervaded the work. Some of the best of these came in the work's first duet, performed adroitly by Cailin Orn and Sebastian Mersch, where Mersch pressed his head and shoulders against Orn like a cat seeking attention, and Orn acted the puppy, resting her chin on Mersch's shoulder looking longingly at him.
Disappointing was former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Patrick Frantz's ballet "Coté Jardin," set to a booming score by composer Jean Phillip Rameau. Inspired (according to the program notes) by traditional French stage dance and "the whimsical gardens of Versailles," the ballet for 20-plus dancers evoked hardly any of those images. Instead, it delivered a mass of bodies overcrowding the stage, sloppily dancing academic ballet choreography that was largely simplistic and uninspired.
The program ended, however, with a gratifying bang, thanks to another former PBT dancer's work: Kristofer Weinstein-Storey's highly charged "Stimela (what is African debt?)." Weinstein-Storey's modern dance work about disgruntled South African mine workers, set to composer Hugh Masekela's fiery jazz, burst with aggression and attitude. A dozen CDC dancers, costumed in black coveralls and looking as if penned up in a prison yard, rocketed through a series of explosive and in-your-face movement riffs that were physically challenging and nothing short of brilliant.
Point Park University's Conservatory Dance Company performs Pittsburgh Connections. Continues 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 20; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 21; and 2 p.m. Sun., Nov. 22. George Rowland White Performance Studio, 201 Wood St., Downtown. $18-20. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com