METdance – Deep In The Heart

Artists of METdance. Photo by Ben Doyle.

METdance has attracted a string of high-profile choreographers over the past decade, in large part to the diligent efforts of Artistic Director Marlana Doyle to broaden the scope of the company, but on April 13 and 14, she unveiled a program dedicated to dance rooted in Texas. METdance was joined by Bruce Wood Dance of Dallas, both of which have been working on a joint initiative to cross-pollinate the dance communities of both cities and create the opportunity for co-commissioning.

Deep in the Heart opened with a true ode to the Lone Star State. It’s hard not to like, if not downright love, Bruce Wood’s “Lovett!” A crowd-pleaser to the highest degree, the Bruce Wood dancers two-stepped and waltzed through a series of Lovett’s infectious tunes with great warmth for the work. Many of Wood’s key choreographic attributes are present even here, including simplicity and use of line.

Artists of METdance. Photo by Ben Doyle.

One of the most satisfying sequences of the whole night was when the dancers traveled across the stage in a single procession, with a soft, pleasant heel-toe weight shift that reverberated through the body. This was captivating, just like Wood’s “Red.” Geometric, symmetrical, and linear, the dance was anything but square. It was hot-blooded and alive, qualities that can be hard to generate when the choreographer is so attracted to form. “Red” was a real thrill to watch, and it offered the peak in an otherwise middling program.

Between “Lovett!” and “Red,” METdance had a high bar to reach. They managed it nearly once with “Murmur,” the world premier by hometown favorite Robbie Moore. It was dynamic and powerful, and saw the company inhabit a dark world of oversized suits and glowering expressions. The floor work was energetic, and the ensemble work was performed with verve and in rhythm to the pulsing, almost apocalyptic music by Nicolas Robert Thayer.

The first half of the program ended on a surprisingly shaky note. In what was supposed to be a highlight, Bridget L. Moore was co-commissioned to create a work on the two esteemed companies, but her “Following Echoes” was marred by garish blue costumes, forgettable music, and choreography that lacked the dynamism of the dancers performing the piece.

Artists of Bruce Wood Dance and METdance. Photo by Ben Doyle.

I assumed this would be a great opportunity for a single choreography to meld the distinct stylistic voices of both companies, but the result was an innocuous quartet that brought together a pair from each troupe. “Following Echoes” seemed uneven in tempo and not quite clean in execution. Olivia Rehrman (Bruce Wood Dance) and Paige White (METdance) were a lovely pairing, but Alonzo Blanco (Bruce Wood Dance) and Jesus Acosta (METdance) were unevenly matched in movement quality, body type, and onstage temperament. I preferred Blanco’s length, his unvarnished performance style, and his ability to make anemic material interesting to watch.

Deep in the Heart concluded with a much anticipated world premiere by Dominic Walsh. I was one of many who were disappointed to see his Dominic Walsh Dance Theater go in 2015; his signature blend of contemporary ballet and heightened sense of theatricality have yet to be replicated. But “Aurem,” an archaic word for gold, was anything but golden.

Walsh takes as his subject the dancer in process, one that is never-ending and steeped in constant self-examination, self-exploration, and self-doubt. He opens his investigation in a dance studio, dancers stretching on the floor and warming up at the barre. The Hobby Center stage is stripped bare, with close-up shots of the dancers projected onto the back wall. The personalities on display are participating in a comedy of manners; Walsh keenly observes the rigors of a dancing life while illuminating the absurdities of such a high-strung process.

However, his content appeared to be more developed than the movement. Much of the first section is busy to the point of distraction. Groups of bodies compete for focus, with not a single one prevailing. There is a painfully awkward moment when dancers line up down stage and pull down their pants while grinning unabashedly at the audience. This was a discomfiting moment because the message – that a performer must often work through difficult emotional processes while on display – is a bit too obvious. There were a few chuckles in the audience, but not enough to make the company feel any better about what they were doing, I’m sure.

The piece resolved itself with what was truly the highlight of METdance’s contribution to the evening. A duet danced by Dwain Travis and Elizabeth Sutton in nude tones was a refreshing palate cleanser that provided, above all, stability and focus to Walsh’s thesis. Boldly athletic, yet, gorgeously rendered, the duet offered the heartfelt idea that perhaps sometimes the performer must remove themselves from the process and seek the quietude of personal, less visible practice. For certain, the duet also established Dwain Travis as METdance’s most valuable player on the men’s side.

Deep in the Heart offered an evening of great dancing, even if the material was quite uneven. What Marlana Doyle is doing as an artistic director of Houston’s most visible contemporary dance company is vital and necessary; I hope she continues to bring collaborate with Texas talent far and wide. Having Bruce Wood Dance in Houston was the definitive treat of the evening, and probably stirred more than a few audience members to make it a point to drive to Dallas to experience their soulful, joyous dancing.

About the Author

Adam Castañeda is a dancer and arts administrator in Houston, Texas. He is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Pilot Dance Project, a non-profit arts organization with the mission to empower and transform communities through innovative dance, theater, and visual art. With his company he has performed in evening-length works by Ashley Horn, jhon r. stronks, Jennifer Mabus, Jaime Walne-Fruge, and Heather VonReichbauer. When not with the Pilot Dance Project, he enjoys performing with Suchu Dance/Jennifer Wood.

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