New Works concert delights

Saturday, March 29, 2003

It's hard to imagine 10 more strikingly different pieces than those performed Friday night by the Prairie Wind Dancers and their apprentice company at the troupe's New Works Concert, which annually premieres creations by area choreographers.

Prairie Wind artistic director Candi Baker's "Sea Joy" begins with the five-member company slowly waking behind a transparent screen with images of the ocean projected on it. As Paul Winter's earthy score unfurls, the dancers follow suit, their sure movements imitating undulating then crashing waves, winds and aquatic life.

In Lawrence Arts Center ballet director Deborah Bettinger's "Poupee de Papier," Kimber Andrews and Sarah Grundwaldt explore two faces of women. Above screeching modern music, they move like marionettes, machines. They eventually swap clothing on stage, "reaccessorize" to create ridiculous outfits and end with bold catwalk struts.

Two of the more experimental numbers in the lineup are Baker's "Moment" and Bettinger's "Weird Lullaby." The first uses spoken word as the only accompaniment and investigates what it means to "be in the moment." Humor ensues as dancers grapple with the frustration, illusion, satisfaction and dissatisfaction of trying to capture moments.

"Weird Lullaby" pairs J. Damian Houston and Jennifer Wilson behind a backlit white screen; only their silhouettes are visible. The fascinating effect stretches shadows, giving the dancers an alienlike appearance. It also forces the viewer to see geometry instead of people.

"Calm, breezy, and just plain windy," choreographed by Michelle Diane Brown, a former Prairie Wind Dancer, elicits many laughs and would play particularly well to a young audience. Dancers, dressed in colorful feathered hats, imitate birds on a wire on a windy day.

Kansas City choreographer Susan Warden's "5 Phrases, 5 Dancers" showcases the company's technical skill and endurance by wringing the dancers through complex phrases and patterns.

Also worthy of mention is "(Felt)," choreographed and danced by Ellie Goudi-Averill and Michael Ingle, apprentice company members. Both exemplified controlled athleticism and grace in the slow, contemplative piece set to stirring piano music by Yann Tiersen. Better to feel it, though, than read a description.

The concert repeats at 8 tonight at the arts center, 940 N.H.