Roots and Wings

The works in Dance Repertory Theatre's spring program proved unexpectedly timely in a week of unrest and anxiety

Kristen Frankiewicz in Solemn Opus: The Journey of Lost and Found, choreography by David Justin
Kristen Frankiewicz in "Solemn Opus: The Journey of Lost and Found," choreography by David Justin (Courtesy of Amitava Shakar)

Roots and Wings

B. Iden Payne Theatre, UT campus
April 20

A barefoot woman runs on a diagonal to her partner, upstage, launching her body horizontally toward him. It's not an unusual feat in dance, but it exemplifies the rush of Dance Repertory Theatre's headlong performance of famed modern choreographer Paul Taylor's "The Uncommitted." To the searching strings of Arvo Pärt, the 11 dancers, barefoot, in mottled pink-and-blue unitards, moved in waves: A soloist was washed away by a group, which left another soloist in its wake. Throughout the piece, the dancers were a community, in that moment, bound by devotion to the work and to each other.

Perhaps in a different context, that community and devotion, and the themes of betrayal, struggle, and coping that laced through the other four works on the spring program of the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance's undergraduate troupe, would have seemed mere shades of the whole, those cross-hatched areas that give an experience dimension, like the aching parts in the score of The Nutcracker. But a week in which the news was rife with explosions, madmen, manhunts, and an earthquake made DRT directors David Justin and Charles O. Anderson seem like prophets, having uncannily predicted a formula to temper our buzzing nerves. It was as if they knew we would need works onto which we could shift our unrest for a while, dances through which we could experience the sorrow and fear that, in real life, we are conflicted about or keep closeted. From the cyborg musings of Yacov Sharir's video-dance "3D [Embodied]" to Justin's neoclassical "Solemn Opus: The Journey of Lost and Found," the program was an elixir for the emotionally drained: a portal to youth, purpose, and beauty – not mutually exclusive with sadness.

Even "Turning It," a collaborative, colorful romp through the flamboyant and ridiculous, abruptly turned chilling and reverent. And in senior Courtney Mazeika's thoughtful, well-crafted "Home," a trio of women were remarkably synchronous yet not mechanical, individually committed to a singular poignancy and regret.

In the closer, Justin's 2006 "Solemn Opus," to music by Shostakovich, the rounded, upturned arms of five long-skirted women melted into a fighting stance, fists clenched. After one dancer separated from the group, having lost the will to cope, the rest coaxed her back through skittish jokes: a head turned the wrong way, an awkward pose held too long. After that, despite their continued struggles, their faces maintained just a touch of mirth. Continuance after despair, here, seemed cause enough for – almost – happiness.

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Roots and Wings, Austin dance, Dance Repertory Theatre, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, David Justin, Charles O. Anderson, Yacov Sharir, Courtney Mazeika

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