One misstep aside, Contemporary Choreographers is a strong program | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

One misstep aside, Contemporary Choreographers is a strong program

Works by Luke Murphy and Ronan Koresh stand out

Emotionally powerful and thrilling was the ultimate effect of this past Sunday's performance of Conservatory Dance Company's Contemporary Choreographers program.

The annual production showcases works by some of today's best choreographers and talented up-and-comers. This year's, however, began with a disappointing performance of David Morse's "BWV 1063." Set to vibrant music by J.S. Bach, the neoclassical ballet for 19 female dancers on pointe featured pretty (if somewhat academic) choreography with dancers moving into and out of a variety of attractive formations. The most interesting came when rows of dancers broke from unison group choreography to deliver counterpoint movement phrases. Uneven lines and sloppy dancing, however, soured an otherwise promising ballet.

The dancing improved with the premiere of 2009 Point Park graduate Luke Murphy's "This Room Was All Set For Us." Inspired by Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, and the idea of the locked room, Murphy's modern dance work for six dancers set to familiar songs from the 1960s and '70s, cast a surreal spell. Confined to a small floor pattern of squares, the dancers moved through a succession of highly physical dances suggesting themes of isolation, co-dependence, relationship anxiety and suicide. Amidst fine performances by the entire cast, dancer Alexandra Chain stood out for her emotional intensity along with Ashley Zimmerman, whose solo to The Door's "The End" was mesmerizing.

click to enlarge This Room Was All Set For Us part of Contemporary Choreographers
Photo courtesy of Jeff Swensen
Luke Murphy's "This Room Was All Set For Us," part of Contemporary Choreographers

Fueled by an intensely moving Arvo Part score, Troy Powell's "Fallen Angels" produced a whirlwind of emotional dancing. Powell's premiere work for 11 dancers was a riveting display of angelic imagery, falling bodies and emotional support. Most striking was when nine male dancers, each with a hand to his chest and gazing downward, slowly walked onstage, then launching into a fervent dance that carried them back and forth across the stage. The sequence ended with their collapse to the floor, and a heartfelt closing pas de deux by dancers Hailey Turek and Justus Whitfield.

The program concluded with a triumphant bang as Ronan Koresh's tribalistic "Standing in Tears" (2005) poured forth his signature contemporary movement style infused with Israeli folk dance. Set to hard-driving Middle Eastern music, the large group piece led by a commanding Jenna Saccurato produced a dazzling display of aggressive, fist-pumping dancing that was brilliantly crafted and danced.

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