On the Move

Mid America Dance Company

Mid America Dance Company's late-winter concert, in the past called Company Works, has traditionally given Madco's dancers a chance to show their choreographic stuff. On the Move, this year's offering, bounced its way across the stage at St. Louis University High School's excellent auditorium last weekend, its eight-member full-time company augmented by seven more dancers, most of them students at Lindenwood University, where Madco is currently in residence. The partnership is obviously beneficial to both. Madco gets a place to hang and a supply of eager, well-trained young dancers. Lindenwood has the area's leading dance company right there on campus -- artists actually making art are the best, most inspiring models for young artists, and the young dancers Lindenwood is nourishing get a taste of professional performance.

The evening opened with Tiffany Cunningham's athletic, elegantly formal "City," choreographed for three women and four men to some icy-cool John Coltrane. Cunningham had the dancers up and about throughout the piece: sometimes a bit frantic, at others times just moving fast until fatigue floored them, making them an easy mark for a pickpocket who'd been watching them throughout the dance. Next came "Tangos," choreographed by Alexandra Guillossou (née Ghosh), one of Madco's strongest members, to some Lalo Schifrin for six dancers -- slinky and potentially hot, had the dancers not seemed somewhat reluctant to glue their pelvises together as the music itself demanded. The problem with Summer Beasley's "Incarceration" and, to a lesser extent, Stacy West's "Slouch Hat," as with any dance to spoken words, is that one has trouble listening to the words and paying attention to the dance at the same time. The first half of the evening ended with Kate Benkert Meacham's "Nocturne," another somewhat formal piece, this time tending more toward some sort of ritual. The entire company joined in for this one, filling the stage with swirling, shiftingly patterned movement.

The second half opened with "Slouch Hat," then moved to Alice Bloch's "Ritornello," set to one of the most familiar Brandenburg concerti. Bloch's use of five dancers gave a consistently attractive shifting asymmetry to the dance; the women, clad in a glorious purple, seemed to keep striving upward. Once again, cool seemed to be the dominant emotional key -- a well-chilled, handsome joy. Todd Weeks' "Echoes," set to a torch song prettily rendered by Sarah McLachlan, is a slightly sentimental pas whose merit is hard to judge because Weeks and Stacy West, who performed it, partner one another so wonderfully. It's really hard to tell which of them is the rememberer and which the remembered, but that's Weeks' point.

The evening's big work, West's "The Burghers of Calais," danced to a variety of music, is a reflection on Auguste Rodin's monumental statuary to celebrate the heroism of the ordinarily unheroic. Clad in rags of muted colors, the 14 dancers seemed to reenact the sacrifice a few townspeople made for the rest of the town, from decision and preparation to the departure from the town gates to the enemy camp. The movement, sometimes subtle and tentative, sometimes large and grandiloquent, is remarkably structured, yet free-flowing, and the piece, both in whole and in parts, is overwhelming. Stacy West has been moving toward something as serious as "The Burghers of Calais" for some time now, and she has succeeded in giving us a piece of dance that succeeds both as picture and as motion.

Mark Schilling, who lit the whole evening superbly, made a major contribution to the concert's success, as did Y. Michelle Collyar, whose costumes were consistently handsome and becoming. It's pleasant to notice that Madco has enough money to afford such aid, and one hopes they will continue to prosper enough to up their production values so successfully. It was also a pleasure to notice that a good-sized audience was present for Friday night and an even larger one was promised for Saturday. What local dance companies need most is local support, and it's about time Mid America Dance Company is dancing for a decent house.