After TU Dance’s spring concert is over and the dancers have gone, the Southern Theater stage seems bereft, empty, orphaned—but the dance goes on in the viewer’s eyes, afterimages of motion flickering over the ordinary world outside. There are beautiful involutions of partnering where bodies twine around and transform each other, and sky-catching leaps echo with a suspension of time. Choreographer Uri Sands (co-artistic director of the company, along with Toni Pierce-Sands) at times adds dramatic edge to his muscular and lovely movement, creating a lift in which a dancer climbs the air with her flexed feet, or piling severe but elegant poses reminiscent of Egyptian art. Sands can be funny too: In “Waiting,” he and Jason Jacobs ham their way through a Tom Waits song as if they were pleasantly tipsy hoofers who’ve almost forgotten their routine. Mostly, though, it’s beauty that he and the company create on stage, and plenty of it. In “For You,” six dancers alternate swirling through a brightly lit space, sometimes solo, sometimes in couples, while the others stand by. At the end of the piece, all six dancers are moving, three couples spread over the stage, with no focal point. What a luxury: more beauty than you can see at once.
At times I wanted more from this lush show. The sweetness of it lulled me, and I wanted Sands to risk more. The ambitious “Veneers” begins well, with a quartet of dancers in Egyptian tunics (by Tulle and Dye) and harsh lighting (by Carolyn Wong). Rapid-fire, the dancers gesture and pose. They draw their hands past their necks, as if cutting off their heads, or pantomime hanging themselves, heads drooping. They take up fencing stances or ballet positions, strained past ease. With their speed and seemingly superhuman coordination, the dancers look as if they’re in an airless other world. “Veneers” also ends well. One dancer (Berit Ahlgren) repeats the opening gestures, but ever more feverishly. The faster she goes, the looser she gets, until at last she becomes ordinary, human. (In the performance I saw, her hair came free of its tight bun and her hairpins clattered on the stage. Let’s hope she can manage that every night.) At the same time, a row of dancers advances slowly toward and past her, going stiffly to the back of the stage. They carry bouquets of multicolored roses, and at last they begin to strike themselves with their bouquets. This strange ritual—flagellation with roses—juxtaposed with the other dancer's sudden freedom, makes for an unforgettable ending. But the middle of “Veneers,” though easy on the eyes, doesn’t add much. Throughout the evening, I wanted more of the imagination that produced the opening and closing of “Veneers.”
Still, this concert is nearly a ten. The opening night audience certainly thought so: The standing ovation was instant and long. As a critic, I see dance all the time, and I get jaded—thus my desire for Uri Sands to push further into his darker side. But I’m not immune to the sheer pleasure that TU Dance delivers, the pleasure of watching a body ecstatic, transformed by energy and rhythm. “Isms,” the final piece in the evening, explodes with the ecstatic bodies of this talented company. As choreography, it’s not interesting. But as dance, as human bodies reaching to our farthest limit, it’s indispensable.
TU Dance’s spring concert runs June 14–17, 21–24, at the Southern Theater.