By Sarah Bell, staff writer
Fearless leaps onto the bodies of spinning dancers, explosive athletic sequences, and intimate embraces into the arms of lovers: words do not do justice to capture the energy and spirit that graced the Touhill stage during MADCO Dance Company’s “Liquid Roads” performance on November 13th.
The performance was the culmination of a three-year project to tell the stories of travelers along the Mississippi River as well as railroad passengers going to the west. Themes of relationships, travel, and change were expressed in a mix of carefree and powerful movements by the dancers and melodies and rhythms played by four live musicians. A wide range of music styles accompanied the dancers, from gospel and blues to country and folk.
The choreographer, Gina Patterson, is a well-accomplished professional. She has performed as a dancer in several ballet companies, choreographed for more than 20 companies, and founded her own dance company, VOICE, based in San Angelo, TX..
When asked for the inspiration for “Liquid Roads,” Patterson spoke of “the music flowing up from New Orleans, how it has influenced lives through generations—the music played on river boats and railroads, and also the relationships of all the travelers across the country.” She said it was rewarding to see how everyone finally came together—dancers, musicians, and all the production staff.
The music was a central part of the performance, and several of the pieces were written by the musicians. Brian Casserly, music director, performed on trumpet and vocals playing standards such as “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “What A Wonderful World” as well as originals. His soulful timbre, accompanied often by only simple chords, presented the feel of the humble work of wage laborers and travelers. His music for the first scene, “Generations,” was blues and jazz influenced, accompanying dancers’ movements in slow partner combinations and complex lifts, expressing the loss for those traveling, and simultaneous exploration into a new world.
The show saw a change of pace with “New Beginnings,” which presented scenes on the road and in town. An ice cream vendor ran the stage in one piece, while dancers playfully bought ice cream, teased him and flirted with each other.
The next scene, “Crossroads,” brought the audience into a railroad station, with piles of luggage and the “passenger” Suitcase Joe, played by the percussionist Joe Pastor. Waiting for his train, Suitcase Joe naturally took out his drumsticks and turned luggage into a drum set, while dancers rushed to catch trains and load luggage. One dancer on tap shoes even challenged Suitcase Joe to a rhythm battle. The driving and complex rhythms in this section complemented the dancers’ energy and athleticism.
Several original pieces written by the pianist Matt Murdick laid the background for the next scene, “Memories.” The dancers’ movements expressed the intricacies of memories and relationships, with beautiful pas-de-deux pieces showcasing their grace and agility. Harmonies and bass lines from Eric Slaughter, bassist, laid a foundation for the dancers’ soulful moves.
The next scene, “Spiritual Waters,” brought out the folk and gospel traditions of the American South, with gospel standards like “Down to the River to Pray,” during which all the dancers sang in harmony a cappella while dancing. The movements were slow and powerful, and silence used in the music to emphasize the mood. .
In the last scene, “Second Line,” the dancers brought high energy moves to the stage with jumps, turns, and lifts, in pieces like “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Stop Your Doggin.” Playful interactions between couples showed the dancers’ flexibility and sense of humor. The last piece, “So in Love,” was a culmination of the styles from the many different scenes—the upbeat swing, slow jazz, soulful folk—for a strong finish to the evening’s performance. At the end, the dancers even invited audience members to the stage to dance and celebrate the show together—the countless hours of rehearsal and planning finally paid off.