Dance Repertory Theatre's successful spring concert guided its audiences to heaven

Oblivion's Ink by David Justin: (l-r) Cooper Neely, Victoria Mora, Ema Watanabe, Amanda Gladu, Courtney Mazeika in
"Oblivion's Ink" by David Justin: (l-r) Cooper Neely, Victoria Mora, Ema Watanabe, Amanda Gladu, Courtney Mazeika in (Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimsath)


B. Iden Payne Theatre
March 24

Catalyst, by University of Texas undergraduate dance group Dance Repertory Theatre, was a program of often masterful works by faculty choreographers, including co-directors David Justin and Yacov Sharir, as well as the world-renowned Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. But the student dancers, in their mature and intelligent performances of those works, contributed equally to a successful concert that was a worthy competitor for audiences' attention in a dance-packed weekend.

"Oblivion's Ink," by Justin, was a close read of the music (a jazz composition with a classical bent by Dave Douglas) with a balletic sensibility. Surprising twists, like one dancer perched atop another's back in an otherwise classical vignette and a lone male dancer all but blending in with the female group, kept me paying close attention. Murky lighting by Ryan Andrus, a projection like curling smoke behind the dancers, and inky tulle skirts by Kaitlyn Aylward imbued softness and mystique. For good reason, the dancers seemed to trust Justin's steps and refrained from editorializing, offering the gift of the work itself.

Second on the program, Sharir's "Too & For" featured a video design by João Beira that was sometimes the focal point and at other times complementary to organic but inventive movement. In the first section, a continuous, abstract image projected in front of the dancers was a colorful visualization of energy that gave way to a ghostlike figment, continuing the movement after it stopped in the corporeal realm. As the scrim lifted, the focus transitioned to the intimate pairings and repeated gestures of the dancers, who eschewed overemoting in favor of humble restraint. Aylward's pedestrian costumes and lighting by Andrus skillfully and unobtrusively supported the work.

Outward exertion at times overruled restraint in "Rite," an excerpt from a longer piece by faculty member Charles O. Anderson. Inspired by the writing of Octavia Butler (whom I haven't read), the piece was a high-energy postapocalyptic scene. But while powerful dancing led the piece, the emotional expression, large cast, teased hair, and futuristic costumes by Constance Case combined for an overall effect that was a bit muddled.

During intermission, a lone dancer in a black suit took the stage to casually groove and butter up the audience for Naharin's "Minus 16." When the piece began, a semicircle of 21 dancers on chairs performed a physical sequence whose repetition and violence challenged the audience as well as the dancers. Later, a simple, intimate duet showed another characteristic of Naharin's work: trust in the human being – end of story – as subject matter. In a third section, the large ensemble, in suits and fedoras, peered out into the audience as an electronic version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" began; they descended the stage and carefully chose partners from the audience. Leading the audience members up to the stage for a round of social dancing, the young dancers had an air of benevolence, as if guiding them toward heaven – or perhaps youth. Whatever the place, it must have been a wonderful place to be.

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Catalyst, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Dance Repertory Theatre, David Justin, Yacov Sharir, Ohad Naharin, Charles O. Anderson, Ryan Andrus, Kaitlyn Aylward

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