Bowery Dancers connect to audience in first show

It was an ordinary Thursday night at Liberty Hall featuring the "stage" premier of a relatively new local dance company. I wondered if they'd be able to fill even the downstairs, maybe a few seats in the balcony. I was so wrong.

Almost every seat was taken, clear up to the rafters. From parents with kids to college students to senior citizens, the place was packed.

The Bowery Dancers are a group of 20-somethings with a passion for dance. Most have recently graduated from Kansas University. I first saw them in South Park, at one of many free performances. They danced in the grass, up close and personal, no proscenium to distance dancer from audience.

Only eight dancers, they conceive and choreograph all of their work. This program moved from the intensely discordant and chaotic music of Philip Glass to a Chopin etude to "Meatshake" by Ugly Duckling. The dancers have a knack for juxtaposition, for the placement of serious and traditional dance forms back-to-back with the outrageous.

They did a few signature pieces, ripe with bold, brassy fun. In an Irish step-dance piece, "Pub Crawl," the dancers, one by one, put on their tap shoes on-stage, transforming themselves from barefoot and modern to Irish-step-traditional. Part-way through the piece, the audience started spontaneously clapping. By the end, there were noisy cheers and stomping applause. "Not Quite Poetic" was quite poetic, a poetry of movement, taut and dark. Set to the music of Sigur Ros, it was story without language.

One piece that had me riveted was "Psalm 151." Choreographed by Christine Scott, it was plea and blessing, question and response, despair and release. The first part was set to Bach's Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland. In one small spot of stage, dancer Ellie Goudie-Averill stood reaching towards the light, her shoulders flexing, twisted and contorted. Her movements were rigid and constricted. Other dancers moved across the stage, engaged and disengaged, but it was hard for me to look away from the isolated figure. The second part of "Psalm 151" was set to "Ordinary Angels," by Australian pop band Frente. It was loose, exuberant, rich with life, friendship, touching and caring. The Biblical psalms, the ones with words, end with Psalm 150. Scott's "Psalm 151" needed no words.

The final piece was "Trip the Light Fantastic," choreographed by Michael Ingle and set to music by Marc Bolan and T. Rex. It was done in jeans and striped shirts, exuberant and energetic. It filled the stage with vitality and life. A standing ovation erupted at its conclusion.

I try to think about what makes these dancers special. It's not that they're the most technically proficient, although they are darn good. But so many times, with renowned dance companies, I feel an appreciation, an admiration for the unattainable, but no personal connection. But, somehow, with the Bowery Dancers, I don't feel that disconnect. These kids love to dance. They make me believe that my 54-year-old bones could, too.

Susan Kraus is a freelance writer. She can be reached at <a href="mailto:skraus@sunflower.com">skraus@sunflower.com</a>.

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