Dance: it's all just movement. This less-than-inspiring thought comes to me as I'm watching TU Dance's fall concert open with "Sense(ability) Sketch 1," a first step towards an eventual evening-length work on Ayurveda. Some people are wheeling around in anguished twists and shaken-free leaps, some are riding cheerfully by on bikes, the harsh modern classical music has words, and yes, apparently the whole is about Ayurveda. Yet confusing as this mélange is, my eyes track it, and something in the back of my brain registers pleasure. I feel like my cat watching his cat-sitter video: I don't know what those little shapes are up to, but I can't stop watching them!
But then the stage clears, and Berit Ahlgren and Uri Sands (also TU's choreographer) prove that dance has more than mouse-box pleasures to offer. Their tender duet is a meeting of equals, two big smooth movers; their symmetry is as harmonious as the Debussy they dance to. Meanwhile, their gentle partnering is a paradigm of sympathy. He claps over her arabesque to shatter its straight line into a series of curves; she floats upward in his arms.
The last section of "Sense(ability)" lights up with a host of starry points, Marciano Silva dos Santos threading his way through the three-dimensional constellation. This simple set reminds me that dance is often more than moving bodies: it is pageant, temple, natural world--whatever humans find lovely or interesting, distilled. Watching dos Santos, I'm also reminded that when the moving's done by a beautiful body, it's doubly attractive to the eyes. We don't talk about this side of dance much, but why not? It is a pleasure, and not a guilty one, to witness such an epitome of youth and health.
Following "Sense(ability)" is a short comic duet for Sands and his artistic partner, Toni Pierce-Sands, "High Heel Blues"--dance as theater, the movement illustrating the words of the song.
"Tearing," a 2005 work of liquid flow, lovely but with an undercurrent of tragedy, provides a chance to ask about the how of dancing: among all those moving figures, what quality distinguishes the dancers we most want to watch? Alanna Morris and Ahlgren (among others) have it. They're confident dancers, never breaking or stuttering in their steps. I have to assume things sometimes go wrong for them in performance (they're human, after all), but their secret is not to look as if they are performing, striving to execute predetermined choreography; instead, they simply look alive. It is as if current passion drives them on.
Still, with everything we can add to this idea of dance, movement remains what TU Dance offers most to the audience. And it turns out there's nothing "just," nothing small, about this pleasure. When Sands comes flying out in a giant leap at the climax of the funk-fun "Isms," you can feel that leap jump across to the nerves of everyone around you, you can feel that leap yourself, its exaltation, its freedom. And the next thing you know, normally restrained Minnesotans are screaming and leaping to their feet all around you, giving applause that is less a polite ovation than a plea: "Turn the music back on! I want to dance too!"
All this--and yet this is one of the less inspiring TU Dance concerts I've seen. The repertory looks pretty good, but no one dancer had a break-out moment. The one premiere, in fragments, reminds me that I see a lot of fragments, or fragment-like wholes, from Uri Sands--extravagant promises that never quite get fulfilled. He keeps gesturing at the evening-length work, but so far, despite the elegance of those gestures, it hasn't arrived. And it's needed, because there is a folded-up quality to TU Dance, a bit of a rushed feeling, as if no one is at ease.
This isn't helped by a surprisingly inept presentation at the O'Shaughnessy: no program notes for the repertory pieces, and no house-lights-up pauses between works, with everything in the first half of the concert run together, as if it were all one dance.
TU Dance continues at the O'Shaughnessy through Jan. 23, tudance.org