20 years ago, what’s now known as a hashtag was still just the pound sign on your cell phone. That is, if you even owned a cell phone 20 years ago. Last evening at Honored Guests, the 4th celebratory program of METdance company’s 20th anniversary season, audience members were encouraged to use their cell phones to take and post a photo to social media of emcee, St. John Flynn of Houston Public Radio as he presented the new Houston city proclamation declaring April 8, 2016 METdance Day. The hashtag? #METdance, naturally.
Honored Guests played as a genuine invitation to join METdance in paying heartfelt tribute to some of the choreographers and collaborators who have been critical to the success of this repertory company over the last two decades. The evening featured tight and technically strong jazz dancing from METdance dancers, Jesus Acosta, Mia Angelini, Kerry Jackson, Danielle Snyder, Kayla Collymore, Dwayne Cook, Risa D’Souza, Julie DeGregorio, Genene McGrath, Seth McPhail, and trainees, Brittney Smith and Brett Wotherspoon, adding significantly to the positive momentum the company has experienced under Executive Director, Michelle Smith and Artistic Director, Marlana Doyle over the last few years with a relocation to Caroline Street and an updated brand.
The opener, Strange Humors, a duet choreographed by Robert Battle before he became Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, pitted dancers Jesus Acosta and Kerry Jackson against one another in an escalating battle of both physical and witty aggression. Jackson’s fierce accuracy begged attention throughout the evening’s program but was especially compelling paired with Acosta, a sophisticated and confident mover, as his opponent.
The two-hour program was peppered with brief appearances by some of the evening’s honored guests. Former Resident Choreographers, Kiki Lucas and Joe Celej were both in attendance and given the opportunity to share thoughts about their work and years with METdance. In Lucas’s Semi Detached, dancers employ an electric jazz vocabulary to move a small collection of furniture offstage. One could assume it’s to make room for the energetic final movement but Lucas admits through title and during her quick Q&A with Master of Ceremonies, Flynn, that the ending has nothing to do with the work’s prior episodic vignettes.
Lighting designer Kris Phelps plays with shadow and even ultraviolet light in Celej’s ForeverFleeting. With thoughtful follow-through Celej ushers dancers through a series of entanglements. They work through pretzel-like knots, some self-inflicted and some in kinesthetic dialog before finally exhaling in a conclusion that’s simple yet breathtaking. With scalpel-sharp precision, dancer Mia Angelini, dazzles in a solo that looks like it is meant for her.
The company’s past is offered with a glimpse of projected archival footage and “A Tribute to the Jazz Man,” Steven Boyd, a long-time Houston jazz dance instructor and early artistic contributor to METdance. Boyd passed away in 2007 but thanks to a film salutation by Ben Doyle, audience members are provided with concrete evidence that this jolly, effervescent personality impacted many pupils and fellow artists who allow his legacy to live on. At the center of the evening, METdance brings to life two of Boyd’s foundational works from 1995/96 for the program. The pure lyricism and lively optimism of Cold Feet and Deeper Love, respectively, is clearly a throwback to an earlier era in jazz dance but are not incompatible on this bill. Authentic storytelling never gets old.
In fact, story is the underlying strength also of a world premiere collaboration, laboriously titled Long Fixed, Stare/Survey No. 1/ #Gaze, that features choreography and dancing by jhon r stronks, captured on camera and projected live as a backdrop by Ben Doyle, who moves about stage in tandem with stronks. Full of magical, clever, whimsical, and legitimately LOL-funny moments from beginning to (rear) end, it would have been a show-stealer if METdance did not so gleefully provide the getaway car for the much-beloved stronks.
With an arresting score by Bryce Dessner, Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Snow Playground (also a world premiere), captures with crystal-clear intention the fractal geometry and patterns of ice and snowflakes as well as the organized flurry of a winter snowfall. Skarpetowska has been listed as one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” this year. Considering how skillfully she demonstrates the kind of purpose-driven choices that only appear effortless, it is little wonder why. Danielle Snyder’s dancing shines particularly bright as she combines just the right amount of grace and agility within this ensemble piece. Snow Playground is a satisfying conclusion to a diverse program and displays the evolution and maturity of the METdance repertoire as well as the dexterity of its current company members.
As a celebratory retrospective, #HonoredGuests is a #success that implies a bright and enduring future for #METdance. #houston #dance