Houston Metropolitan Dance Company Explores Sight and Sound in The Vessel

The Setup:

On April 11 and 12, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company presented The Vessel, a three-piece program, on the Wortham Center's Cullen stage. The dances by Peter Chu, Jason Parsons and Resident Choreographer Kiki Lucas explored the senses of sight or sound or both.

The Execution:

The Vessel is also the name of the concert's most successful piece, which belongs to Lucas. Inspired by Artistic Director Marlana Doyle's work with a deaf student, the dance follows ten-year-old Bailey Flowers as she explores the world through dance. The images are beautiful. Dancers writhe around a barre, limbs reaching into delicate shapes and spirals. Three musicians are encased in a Plexiglas box, their music muffled, but the eye registers the visual grace of their performance. A video projects the Flowers' fragmented reality, a reality that is no less beautiful and wondrous without sound. It's a heart-tugging assertion, that the imagination, regardless of privations, will seek other ways to play.

Peter Chu's Hidden in Plain Sight is a romp through a Vegas-styled world of faux happiness. The choreography ingeniously incorporates iconographic poses (the Miss America hand wave, anyone?) into the movement, giving the impression of mannequins in motion. The dancers lip synch and smile in exaggerated fashion, their posturing an imitation of our pop culture sensibilities. Chu's dance has important things to say about the priorities of culture and the values that we esteem and those that we disregard, but its energy fades when the narrative begins to focus on the travails of a single character, a diva-dressed Kiki Lucas. Lucas is such a pleasure to watch, but the dance's initial ensemble work is so exciting that an in-depth character analysis is not needed. I'm not sure it's a good thing when the curtain call is more fun than the entire second half of the dance.

Parsons' 2011 piece, Light Before Sound, was interesting in its premise of cuing the dancers through lighting design, but it felt more like an afterthought on a program with choreographies sculpted from weightier material.

The Verdict:

The Vessel is the most stimulating piece on the program, not because it entreats any one particular sense, but because it petitions the emotional chords that rest beyond perception of the physical world. Lucas' dance is not so much about the act of hearing, as it is about how sound, or the absence of it, shapes our reality. Hidden in Plain Sight's chief appeal remains on the surface; Chu's presentation of the shimmery, glam world of light never registers beyond its visual fun.

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