Lingo's mosaic of dance and music was accessible, unpretentious, and full of life – much like its creators

Arts Reviews


McCullough Theatre, July 27

After the final notes of Lingo, Rob Deemer and David Justin, co-artistic directors of American Repertory Ensemble, delighted the audience with a spirited, tangential conversation about their collaboration. The two alluded to the essence of their artistic spark: How do music and dance interrelate? And further, how can they?

Lingo brought together Austin musicians with dancers from across the country to perform a mosaic of six pieces, fusing established repertoire with new works. The result was an ambitious feast of movement and sound.

The first act opened with Yuri Zhukov's "No Time Jazz," a pastiche of human relationships set to classic American jazz recordings. The six dancers, dressed in mod black and white and using cocktails as props, presented their characters beautifully: the drunken rag doll, the coy husband, and more. Altogether, the piece evoked a steamy, alcohol-infused revelry.

The premiere of Deemer's "Hot, Crazy, Fun," a chamber music ode to Austin, followed. Pianist Reuben Allred and Tosca String Quartet members Leigh Mahoney, Tracy Seeger, Ames Asbell, and Sara Nelson opened with the first of the night's references to Aaron Copland and quickly moved to an energetic, jazzy section that matched the intoxicating spirit of the previous dance. Deemer even threw in some Texas blues, a witty touch. Allred's performance stood out, especially brilliant in passages where the pianist literally bangs the keyboard in syncopated rhythm.

In the third piece, "Already Dusk," live music and dance were paired with subtlety. Under Michelle Habeck's dreamy lighting, the elegant pas de deux set to a tender Brahms duet was gorgeous, as if each pair -- dancer and musician -- were figments of the other's imagination.

Deemer's second premiere, a lush etude for solo clarinet, opened the second act with a lively, assuring performance by Alice Wang. The musical ballet references in "Memoirs" were accompanied by the humorous prop of a dancer as human music stand.

Next, Lingo went formal for George Balanchine's setting of Stravinsky's "Duo Concertant." Permission from the George Balanchine Trust, which wields tight control over its copyrighted technique, was an impressive vote of confidence in the company. Dancers Kathi Martuza and Artur Sultanov performed the rigid, controlled duets with athletic grace. The musical coupling of Mahoney on violin and Allred on piano was mixed, at times lacking in texture and balance.

The six dancers and six musicians then took the stage together for the finale. Written on commission by the great trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas, "Ascendant" was started in January, delivered in April, and choreographed in June -- by any account, a fast achievement. David Justin's choreography supported the rich, pastoral score, written in memory of Aaron Copland, with a unique blend of classical ballet and modern dance allusions. Initially, the dancers, cloaked in sun-soaked orange against swaths of sea-blue cloth, were striking. As the musicians raced to the final chord, though, the dancing seemed suddenly rushed, and the company arrived at its energetic final position anxiously. The audience was forgiving and acknowledged the new work with vigorous applause.

Taken separately, the elements of Lingo were thrilling and evocative. Where the interlock of setting, influence, and style worked, as in the first act, the result was an exciting portrait of American Repertory Ensemble's fusion of artistic languages. In the second act, Lingo wasn't as cohesive and, as a result, lost some of its grip.

Regardless, I can't wait to see what American Repertory Ensemble will do next. What is unique about this company is how the audience is invited into the exploration and invention taking place at the highest artistic levels onstage. The experience of Lingo was accessible, unpretentious, and full of life -- much like its creators.

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Lingo, American Repertory Ensemble, Rob Deemer, David Justin, Tosca String Quartet, Reuben Allred, Alice Wang

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