The Set-Up: One November 9 and 10, two of Houston's most cherished companies joined forces for squared dancer, a highly anticipated collaboration between Hope Stone and Houston Metropolitan Dance Company at the Wortham Theater Center. The program featured new work by Hope Stone Artistic Director Jane Weiner, as well as Houston Met repertory works by Robbie Moore, Suzi Taylor and a premier by Erin Reck.
The Execution: The program opener, Jane Weiner's Change is Inevitable, is an intimate rumination on a grand scale. Pairing the yodeling of the P Girls of the Golden West and the music of Philip Glass might seem like a jarring match, but it makes sense in this wistful dance that sees its dancers moving to the sounds of pennies clicking in their hands and pockets. It's funny, but the last segment, a breathtaking feat of lovely partnering work, is moving on a much more profound level. Theirs is a loving, almost otherworldly way in which the dancers perform together. They do not react to each other, or dance in spite of each other. It's a harmony that just as stunning to watch as the piece's iconic ending waterfall of pennies.
The second part of the concert belonged to the Houston Met. Suzi Taylor's To Escape the Weight of Darkness was a beauty. The choreography, with its orante turn sequences and voluptuous cannon phrases, milked the Barmorhea, Keating and Arnalds score for all it was worth. But Robbie Moore's This Expression of Surprise proved a bit too cold and distant for total enjoyment. The synchronized movement suggest an automaton parade and the baffling exchanges of stinted verbal communication hinted at humanity's loss of interconnectedness. Powerful stuff, but a bit too much to take in after the elation of change.
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The last Met piece, the premier of Erin Reck's There Are Things We Don't Know We Share, proved to be an equally confounding experience. Eight dancers dressed in casual wear assemble onstage in a single line and then one by one release their demons through some of the evening's most emotive movement. These dancers, so familiar to Houston Met fans, become new beings in their soaring solos, but the piece as a whole does not serve them well. The basic chorus line formation is static and visually unappealing. It's an odd case indeed, a dance work that is revelatory, yet, uninteresting.
The last dance of the evening was the much anticipated squared dancer. Weiner's new piece, danced by both Hope Stone and Houston Met dancers, is modern day hoedown for the hipster soul. dancer is first and foremost a work about love, and in a world of such intense cynicism, that is a monumental achievement. The dance opens with kisses, and lots of them. Girls kiss boys, boys kiss girls, girls kiss girls and boys kiss boys in preparation for a do si do of the twenty-first century.
And what's a square dance without a live violinist? Marc Hennessey was given the charge of creating an original score, and the resulting composition is as ethereal as whale music. The rainbow of plaids and puff skirts onstage creates a veritable fantasia of sensory perception, the dance so fun and energetic it's difficult to sit still. The wonder of it all is the generosity of spirit in the performance, of the tender-hearted way the dancers move together. This is no dance hall competition. This is an ode to being human, a revelation we can all dance to.
The Verdict: The divisiveness of the Houston Met pieces is not a negative criticism; rather, it's a testament to the diversity of our city's multi-faceted dance aesthetic. The Moore and Reck works are conversation pieces for sure. They just felt out of place in a concert that is clearly meant to showcase the beatific energies of change is inevitablee and squared dancer. Weiner's choreography is joyous to watch. It's nurturing without being sentimental, inclusive without being condescending, and sophisticated without being academic. More importantly, it's magic that doesn't feel fake. squared dancer is heavenly, but change is inevitable suggests a taste of heaven. Fingers crossed.