As in 2016, with Alexandra Damiani’s “Portrait De Femmes,” Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company ends this year with one of the season’s very best works, Adam Hougland’s “Cold Virtues.” Part of the company’s stylistically varied Winter Dance Concert at Pittsburgh Playhouse, Hougland’s signature ballet, created in 2003 for Louisville Ballet, was the type of inspired genius that makes a choreographer’s name.
Likened to Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), the ballet, set in a Depression-era speakeasy layered in stage fog, felt like a dream sequence from a Gene Kelly movie. Dancing to Philip Glass’ “Violin Concerto,” a cast of 14 in period garb appeared to revel in Hougland’s expertly crafted twisting and turning choreography. Predatorily stalking the stage were Paige Devitt and Eric Lobenberg, who repeatedly unfurled their fingers from clenched fists at their hips, looking like a pair of sinister flamenco dancers. Zeroing in on speakeasy innocents Anne Morgan and Tyler Kerbel, the two went to work corrupting them in a seductive power struggle that in the end saw Morgan’s character displace Devitt’s as the speakeasy’s cold-hearted queen. In a ballet full of great dancing, the brightest spotlight shone on Morgan, who mesmerized in a trance-like performance worthy of repeated viewing.
The program also included former Mark Morris Dance Company dancer John Heginbotham’s 2016 work “First.” Set to music by Schubert, Heginbotham’s choreography — showing Morris’ influence — was dense with large sweeping movements and a dizzying array of clever hand and arm positions that sat well on CDC’s all-female cast of a dozen.
Next came dance icon Lucinda Childs’ “The Chairman Dances” (2000), inspired by an episode during Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. Dancing to composer John Adams’ composition of the same name, John DeNeff opened the postmodern work by moving a large rectangular frame around him. He was then joined by 13 others engaged in sharp, individually tracked sequences that at times had the feel of Irish stepdance meeting the clinical choreography of Merce Cunningham. Sleek and deceptively challenging, the work proved riveting, and CDC’s dancers acquitted themselves nicely.
Rounding out the concert was dance-department chair Garfield Lemonius’ entertaining new work “Maestro,” set to a suite of Bach string compositions, in which a dozen dancers embodied both orchestra conductor and instruments.