That TU Dance put on an excellent show last night won’t surprise anyone familiar with the work of this modern dance/ballet company. No, the question with two-year old TU Dance isn’t whether you’ll see great dancing, or whether the audience will pop up at the end in a well-deserved standing ovation, but how much risk and vision choreographer Uri Sands will find in his new works, and which dancers will emerge from technical virtuosity into individuality.
First, the choreography. I don’t know whether Sands has gained in choreographic confidence and finesse since TU Dance’s debut or whether I’ve gotten better at seeing into his work—probably a little of both—but I find him a more interesting dance thinker these days. His crowd-pleasingly beautiful moves are still there—big jumps, long lines, soaring lifts—but the beauty seems more complex, labored over, and earned. In The 6 Beginnings, I got the feeling Sands was trying to reinvent the classical dance body, moving from a streamlined and upright shape with active legs and decorative arms to a four-square shape, a splay, with arms and legs equally active. This shape is awkward, chunky, its moves scrambled—so when it attains peace and grandeur, as when women race towards men and leap into still lifts, arms stretched up like elm-limbs, or when four men sit comfortably upright as Lincoln on his Monument, perched on the backs of four women, it’s breathtaking.
I would love The 6 Beginnings if it had a more substantial underlying structure than simply six sections, each titled with a “pre-” word (preoccupied, precipitate, etc).
. . . And Let Go, one of two premieres here, is a short duet set to a relaxation tape (complete with therapeutic synth and repeated injunctions to “let go”), and it’s a gem: Sands makes the most of his same-height dancers (Nathan Trice and Eva Mohn), creating a partnering of equality, the two swirling around each other as we are repeatedly told to “let go.”
The second premiere, Beverly, is Sands’s pure motion piece for the evening, his high-energy close. I hope Sands will someday create a work in which soul thinks as deeply as modern ballet thinks in his other works, but Beverly is certainly enjoyable. Even Shapes and Gaits, the older piece in this evening, looked subtler and more complex than when I saw it last.
The dancers all are superlative; Sands and his co–artistic director (and wife) Toni Pierce-Sands are to be commended for ferreting out such interesting dancers from the local scene and elsewhere. The company’s diverse, too—still not as diverse as I think Sands and Pierce-Sands would like, but showing an impressive mix of cultural origins and body types, from the long and graceful Ned Sturgis to the gymnastic fireball Alanna Morris. Eva Mohn’s the reliable standout here, with her liquid coordination and palpable love for what she’s doing, and she doesn’t disappoint in this concert. Whether other dancers shine seems to depend on what choreography they get. This summer I was impressed by Berit Ahlgren’s elegant rigor, but this fall it was Luke Melsha and Marciano Silva dos Santos who caught my eye. Tall and graceful Melsha, still in college but already a commanding performer with a roguish sense of humor, stepped in for the missing Bernard Brown, doing so well you’d never have known it wasn’t his part from the beginning. Silva dos Santos stood out in Beverly, finding the sweet spot in the beat more surely than any other dancer. Toni-Pierce Sands also performs; her excellence is well-known, but she’s still a discovery every time she moves.
TU Dance performs through Sunday at The O'Shaughnessy.