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Fast Approaching Swiftly Gone

American Repertory Ensemble's latest conveyed the mood and form of good poetry

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., June 1, 2012

Mood indigo: UT dancers in David Justin's Oblivion's Ink
Mood indigo: UT dancers in David Justin's "Oblivion's Ink"
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimsath

Fast Approaching Swiftly Gone

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
May 23

With American Repertory Ensemble's Fast Approaching Swiftly Gone, director David Justin displayed a poetic sensibility. Like good poems, each of the seven works cobbled together context, mood, and form with the result of satisfying cohesion, if not always depth.

First on the program was "New.Base.Line(Fractured)," commissioned from Alex Ketley last fall for Dance Repertory Theatre, the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance company that Justin co-directs. To a recorded sampling of strings, staccato voices, and electronic beats, motifs of reversal – uppercuts unwound into overhand arcs, for example – punctuated the thoughtful ebbing of the seven-woman, one-man group.

Justin restaged his 1991 duet "Unto Love" on Ballet Austin dancers Oren Porterfield and Jordan Moser, but due to injury Moser was replaced by the choreographer. A retired principal ballet dancer, Justin looks to be in his mid-forties and usually doesn't dance. But as partner to Porterfield, whose not-so-quiet intensity was sleek in this moody piece, Justin displayed reserves of strength, technique, and attentiveness. Elevated by the adagio from a cello sonata by Bohuslav Martinu – played onstage by cellist Sara Nelson and pianist John Arndt – the concrete issues of aging and time passage added unexpected poignancy to the performance.

Despite the performance occurring beside the musicians in the next work – people laid bouquet after bouquet of flowers to rest on a velvet sofa, under falling snow – my eyes were glued to Leigh Mahoney (violin), Ames Asbell (viola), and Arndt, playing "La Maja Dolorosa" by Rob Deemer (the co-founder of ARE, now teaching at SUNY Fredonia in New York). The composition evoked essences of human relationships, wavering into a major key only to dissolve into uncertainty, the instruments coaxing one another into a shared rhythm before plaintively breaking away.

In Justin's "Quiver," Mahoney accompanied a dance trio with the "Sarabanda" of J.S. Bach's Partita No. 2. The dancers wore flat coppery-beige costumes and grappled a bit in the partnering, but the movement's notation of the music was rewarding. After intermission, Ballet Austin dancers Porterfield, Moser, and Aara Krumpe lithely slunk in front of a flickering TV set in Julia Adam's 1991 "The Medium Is the Message," which was fun but seemed too light to substantiate the nod to Marshall McLuhan.

Justin was wise to leave the Tosca String Quartet alone to play an excerpt from Astor Piazzolla's Tango Ballet, which is overrepresented as dance accompaniment. The final work was Justin's indigo hued "Oblivion's Ink" for seven UT dancers, who premiered it in March and would reprise it on May 25 at the National College Dance Festival in Washington, D.C. Though danced to recorded music by Dave Douglas, the work exemplified the poetry metaphor: It was formalist, surprising (who could spot the lone male, Cooper Neely, among the women?), and almost obsessively cohesive.

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