The title of DecaDance is misleading: There’s no sense that after 10 years Atrek is past its prime or that rot has set in. In just 10 pieces, the troupe exemplifies what’s exciting, innovative and emotionally resonant about modern dance. Director/founder Angela Culbertson de Benevides, associate artist/choreographer David Marchant and guest dancer Janis Brenner and company simply dazzle, beginning with de Benevides’ Brenner-choreographed solo set to “Guilt,” Marianne Faithfull’s ballad to regretted sins. Trapped in an extraordinarily tiny three-sided booth, with door handles on opposite sides, the dancer reaches for a door handle, removes her hand, shudders and stays where she is. There’s an affair’s worth of anxiety in a cramped but spotlit space. For the most part, de Benevides’ face was blank, but her limbs told the tale.
Atrek's David Marchant and Angela Culbertson de Benevides in DecaDance's "Right Through You"
Performed by Atrek Contemporary Dance Company at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, through Oct. 29. 314-533-1919.
“Guilt” was charged yet simple, but Brenner’s “Solo for Janis,” a cheerful sendup of divadom, illustrated the pleasures and irritations of performing. The pixieish Brenner has the facial versatility of Dick Van Dyke and Harpo Marx combined, and she paced, flung her arms out and did a variety of strides in silence. She mumbled, “I think I can,” which slurred into “Thank you.” Was she deinstitutionalized, or just brilliant? Wide-ranging sources anchored this tour de force, from Busby Berkeley to Marilyn Monroe. Brenner showed real style when she paused for crowd reaction, which went from perplexed to polite and then enthusiastic laughter.
Atrek also presented solo premieres, including Megan Hogrebe’s “Expectations.” Cellist/composer Mitsu Saito provided a mournful duet with Liz Claire. He’s listened to his minimalists, but there’s clearly a place for Vaughan Williams as well. As the dance began, Hogrebe, wearing a maroon shift, writhed gently with her back to the audience. When she finally turned around, there was a collective gasp, she must have been into her third trimester. Her dance was athletic, with controlled lunges and a memorably double-edged arm movement. This began as a cradling gesture and ended with Hogrebe clutching her head, a paradoxical but understandable reaction to impending maternity.
“Assembling Spaces” made less sense, perhaps because dancer Katie Rutterer, with Prem Makeig, had too many ideas and not enough concision. She worked with a pile of 4-by-4 planks of various lengths and eventually created an enclosure. A back-screen projection of gridlines occasionally intersected with her movement, and a jazz quartet (Claire, Saito, Jerome Harris and John Norment) provided a scattish improv. The piece concluded with a bang, however, with Rutterer sinking into this woodpile, arms bent at the elbows and palms facing one another, mimicking her materials.
Older pieces included Marchant’s “December,” a marvel of ingenuity that required passive audience participation. The accompaniment was amplified human inhalation (for which we opened our eyes) and exhalation (for which we closed them), neither regular nor at a consistent tempo. If you did it right, you experienced an odd strobe effect while watching Marchant, who wore only a long velvet skirt. On either side of the stage, a spotlit rose dangled from a thread; in another, “snow” wafted onstage. As the dance progressed, Marchant moved toward the light, when your eyes opened, his position had changed. He made the rose “disappear,” reappear and then die. When he finally appeared beneath falling snow without his skirt, his back muscles quivered, so realistic was his shivering.
Another notable effort was a pas de deux, the muscular and tender “Right Through You.” With music (which resembled distorted jet engines on a loop) by Speedy J., de Benevides and Marchant squared off and then marched, strode or actually ran at each other before ricocheting. Violent and passionate each time, once was a surprise, five times was unsettling and a dozen times was just hypnotic, for these two have control and strength on their side, as does this splendidly imaginative company.