– A giant white dress, dancing zombies and Henrietta Lacks figure in New Dance Horizons at Touhill
PHOTO: Leverage Dance Company performs “Encounters with the Infinite.” Photo courtesy of  Dance St. Louis ©


By Cate Marquis, A&E editor for The Current

A giant white dress, falling snow, a body washed up on shore and the tragic story of Henrietta Lacks were among the diverse elements of “PNC New Dance Horizons II” on October 4 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Dance St. Louis came up with concept last year, to showcase four excellent local dance companies by performing four new works by noted choreographers. The program was presented in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall in three performances over October 4 and 5. It was a world premiere for each piece.

Before a nearly-packed house Friday evening, the program began with Nejla Yatkin’s “Encounters with the Infinite,” danced by the Leverage Dance Company. This magical, entrancing dance piece used imagery of the classic ballet Swan Lake, woodland nymphs of Greek mythology, feminism and phoenix-like rebirth, in a flurry of white feathers suggesting snow or fallen leaves.

With a pianist on stage playing the music of Liszt, Debussy and Schumann, the dance opened with a woman in a huge white eighteenth-century style dress with wide hips, whose dancing is restricted by her beautiful but enormous, feather-covered dress. As the lights dimmed, she shed the dress and emerged to dance unencumbered and seemingly nude. As she disappeared off stage, two more women in short, white, Greek-style dresses emerged and danced with nymph-like abandon, as “snow” floated down from overhead. One dancer exited, leaving the remaining to explore a pile of feather-snow from which, suddenly, an arm and then another woman emerges and joins her in scattering the pile of white fluff like autumn leaves. As these two leave the stage, the abandoned enormous dress stirs, and another dancer rises within it, and is then levitated above the stage by unseen dancers beneath.

Next, dancers of Saint Louis Ballet performed “Figurant” by Emery LeCrone. They were dressed informally, as if at rehearsal, the dancers performed steps of classical ballet to a modern musical score. The skillful dancers moved in unison, suggesting rehearsal rather than a performance of classical ballet, in this graceful and pleasing dance piece.

“One,” danced by Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company and choreographed by Uri Sands, was created to honor Henrietta Lacks, the African-American cancer patient whose cells were used to create the HeLa line of immortal cells that contributed much to medical research. Women in flowing skirts dance in lively, defiant manner but are increasingly transformed into bent-over forms with shaking hands, symbolizing Lacks’ fight against her disease and her healthy cells’ eventual replacement by cancer, a moving piece of imagery.

The program closed with “Land’s Edge,” created by the dance collaborative Pilobolus and danced by MADCO, artists-in-residence at UMSL. Like most Pilobolus works, “Land’s Edge” combined playful fantasy, intriguing ideas and transformations, from person to object and back. With the sounds of the sea and waltzing music, couples in costumes suggesting the nineteenth century dance around the stage, as a lone ragged man sits, watching them longingly. Suddenly a prone body is thrust on stage, a woman in a ragged white dress. Whether this woman washed up on shore is unconscious or dead, we don’t know, but it sparks a romantic theme, as the lonely ragged man slowly brings this limp figure back to life. But the dance combines the romantic with the macabre, resurrecting the dead, as a pair of male dancers turn into zombie-like figures who poke about the stage and another pair, a ghoulish set of leering twins, hint at thoughts of necrophilia. It is all handled with Halloween humor, a perfect choice for the season.

It was an evening of impressive performance of wonderful new works, which brought the delighted audience to their feet.

©  The Current 2013