The Set-Up:Dancers are used to taking corrections for mistakes made in the studio. Some corrections go beyond stylistic suggestions; they are required for the safety of the dancers to avoid injury during the creation of new works. Ad Deum Dance Company's artistic director Randall Flinn takes this scenario and uses it as a metaphor for forgiveness. In Moving Violations Pardoned, Ad Deum explores redemption through faith and the healing powers of dance.
The Execution: Pardoned opened with its strongest piece, Joyful Noise, choreographed by Durell Ron Comedy of the Jose Limon Dance Company. The dance is lovely to look at with its stately Graham shapes and exquisite lines, but it's also reminiscent of praise dance. Arms are extended skyward, the dancers' heart chakras open and all the more powerful for it. I love the use of splayed hands, which contributes to the joyous energy generated by the beaming movement. Triplets and waltz steps intermingle with hops and slides, and the dancers occasionally shape their hands in purposeful gestures. Noise personifies the Ad Deum's best attributes, not least of which is the company's strong sense of musicality. The seven women were radiant to watch, so much so that they outshined much of the program to follow.
The next two pieces on the program were a product of Ad Deum's efforts to bring awareness to human trafficking. It's great to see choreographers using movement as a medium for social reform, but as dance theater Flinn's Innocence Not Lost is not successful. It's too heavy-handed; there's not enough subtlety for a proper treatment of such a delicate subject. The music choices are overwrought and the movement is sophomoric. In between phrases, the five dancers take frightening poses and tremble in anticipation of what is coming next in their stolen lives. A black blanket symbolizes the innocence of the title; the quintet alternately cradles the prop and stomps it into the ground, both longing for its comfort while railing against its tarnished form. It would be unfeeling to say the dance is too literal for sympathy, but it does force itself on the audience, that much is true.
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Ryan Corriston's Exodus fares a little better in its handling of the subject. Four dancers are held by cloth at the waist by four dancers behind them. They hang downward, their lives suspended by the imprisonment of their captors. They eventually find salvation, struggling in pretty writhing movement out of their binding. The dance is explosive, with ten dancers careening on and off stage with expressive leap and turn sequences. However, the formations are too tidy, too conventional to satisfy the organized chaos of Max Richter's November. There's a gorgeous flow of limbs with ten dancers on stage, but the cleanliness of the shapes is in direct opposition to the idiosyncratic music.
I was excited to see Unconfined on the program, which was previously presented at Dance Source Houston's now defunct Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance. Flinn's choreography, set to a pulsating track by Warsaw Village Band, combines classical Modern dance vocabulary with folk-inspired steps. The dancers are not in unison, instead creating a beautiful spread of stylized movement across the stage.
When I first saw Unconfined on the Miller Outdoor stage, it was performed by Ad Deum's main company, but this past weekend it was performed by their second company. The abilities of the Ad Deum II are strong, but for some reason they appeared shaky and not altogether comfortable with this robust dance. Unconfined also suffered from the addition of a perplexing preamble in which the dancers march onto the stage military style to the syncopated verbalization of "hey, hey, ho, ho, hi, hi." The add-on is a perplexing aesthetic choice for a dance that is as beautiful as it is red-blooded.
The Verdict: Moving Violations Pardoned included some older works, and it was here that I found the most resonant choreography. This marked the fourth time I've seen Amazing Grace, and the solo is stilling stirring in its spirit of self-understanding, and I don't think I will ever tire of Cheryl Cutlip's fun and uplifting This Light. Unfortunately the majority of the program was compiled of minor Flinn choreography, and not even a bizarre detour to Narnia, where Mr. Tumnus the faun learns the infallible nature of his creator's work, could justify the lengthy runtime. However, it's worth noting that I said in the spring that this company deserves an audience, and the most satisfying part of the concert was seeing that they drew in quite a healthy one. The Barn was filled to capacity, and I can't think of a group of dancers committed to their work and company's faith-based mission who deserve it more.