The Setup: On May 17, Ad Deum Dance Company presented its Spring concert, The End Is the Beginning, at Houston Community College's Spring Branch campus. The program featured work by Artistic Director Randall Flinn as well as choreography by Durell R. Comedy, Cheryl Cutlip, Steve Rooks and Joanna Tan.
The Execution: Ad Deum is a Christian faith-based organization, and knowing this makes it feel a bit on the nose to say that the company is most compelling when giving praise, but it's true. The second half of the program drew from the company's previous spring concert, which featured a series of stunning, heartfelt dances set to familiar hymns. Of special note is Stella Almblade's moving manifestation of Lizz Wright's rendition of "Amazing Grace." The gorgeous technical lines are blended seamlessly to movement that is reminiscent of African-American praise dance; this is a dance of a woman who understands her own corruptions, yet rejoices in the beauty of each and every forgiven blemish.
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Equally beautiful is the duet danced by Shizu Yasuda and Daniel Cossette to Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Be Still My Soul." Yasuda and Cossette complement each other so well, it's disappointing to know that this was Cossette's final performance with the company. The duet is supple and full of unwieldy passion. The energy, however, is not directed from partner to partner; there is no sense of sensuality or physical yearning in the dance. The generated heat is sent upward, along with the dancers' gaze, in a true testament of faith in a higher being.
There's a lot of brooding, grounded movement in an Ad Deum concert courtesy of Martha Graham, but there's always a light flourish or two. It was fun to watch This Light by former Rockette Cheryl Cutlip, a jazzy, brassy undertaking of gospel favorite "This Little Light of Mine." Seven dancers kick and turn and smile, arms outstretched, their bodies brimming with the joy of worship.
Watching people glory in their faith is a beautiful thing, but only when the heavy-handedness of dogma is left out. In the disconcerting pro-life "Questions of Mary," a parallel is created between the Virgin and the teen mothers of today, and a hierarchy of virtue is established with the mothers who decide to keep their children firmly placed at the top. The cultural and social factors that are determinates of teen pregnancy are never considered, and neither are the harsh realities of the aftermath. The piece is reductive at best. Offensive at worst.
The Verdict: The company's worldview is without question a limited one. Liturgical dance, which much of Ad Deum's repertoire is descended from, has a narrow appeal, and for reasons much more complicated than simply not ascribing to Christian ideology. This is not the first Ad Deum concert I have attended, and it's not the first time I have noticed that the turnout is smaller than it should be for such a skilled company. You can ignore the occasional "Questions for Mary," but pay attention to the love of the craft that's onstage. These are dancers who deserve an audience.