Company displays breadth at spring concerts

The University Dance Company showcased its extraordinary season of work Thursday and Friday nights at the Lied Center in a program that ranged from baroque to jazz, grief to flirtatious infatuation.

Guest artist Kate Skarpetowska's much-anticipated "Squirrel Suite" was the evening's feature, ending the performances in fine style. Set to the swing music of Squirrel Nut Zippers, the work blended jazz, swing and modern dance. Six young women exploded onto the stage, swiftly but precisely executing Skarpetowska's complicated, energetic choreography.

While the fast and furious "Squirrel Suite" anchored the last half, Jose Limón's choreography for Meyer Kupferman's "Sonata for Two Cellos," danced by Patrick Suzeau, dominated the performances before intermission. Suzeau is the first modern dancer to perform the work since Limón premiered it in 1961, and it demands Suzeau's forceful presence and considerable strength. Although there is no dramatic theme, the choreography represents varying moods of Kupferman's music. Sometimes Suzeau moved with such slow deliberation that it appeared he was moving through a dense liquid as he accompanied the rich cello tones. Then he tripped across the stage in dazzling footwork during a flurry of cello pizzicato.

Kansas University student Amy Hutchings' thoughtful "Stages" was a dramatization of the five stages of grief, with dancers representing each stage. Although it was accompanied by Ed Alleyne Johnson's Oxford Suite No. 1, its most effective moments occurred in the first five minutes, which were performed without music, the dancers' inhalation and exhalation of breath creating the dramatic intensity.

A lighter moment occurred in "Nodes of Love," choreographed and performed by student Beau Hancock and alumna Ellie Goudie-Averill. Set to the funky beat of "Grand Hotel" by Since, the comic number featured a charmingly infatuated, flirtatious couple meeting for the first time, "dancing" around one another, trying to get acquainted. Goudie-Averill and Hancock's clever movements snapped and sparkled, revealing character and telling a unified story.

Other dramatic moments occurred in choreographer Muriel Cohan's "After Images," a dazzling piece set to Jan Jirasek's "Missa Propria." The five dancers, in Susan Rendall's stunning costumes, interacted with one another in response to a crisis. In addition, Suzeau's choreography in "Song" effectively blended East Indian classical dance and modern dance techniques. Inspired by the verses of Mirabai, the dancers melted onto the stage, suggesting the "rare flowers, peacocks, the inner music" of "gardens" within the body that are the shifting joys of the soul. The dancing was precise and tight, some of the evening's loveliest.

The company even made use of the orchestra pit as dancers Carly Fox and Meggi Sweeney, positioned on the pit floor, were raised up to the level of the stage for their charming performance of Joan Stone's renditions of Baroque dances.

The opening number, Willie Lenoir's clever "Forest Runners," introduced two separate sets of dancers that encounter one another in a "rumble in the forest" scene. The piece occasionally felt disconnected and in need of a tighter through line. However, the evening's myriad of styles demonstrated the quality of the university's dance program.

Sarah Young, a lecturer in Kansas University's English department, can be reached at youngsl@ku.edu.

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