– Musical influences of St. Louis were the focus of MADCO’s dance and music extravaganza ‘Liquid Roads’ at Touhill PAC.
PHOTO: The dancers of MADCO and musicians on stage joined forces in interpreting the musical heritage of St. Louis. Photo by Sarah Myers for The Current 2014 ©

By Cate Marquis, A&E Editor for The Current

Up and down the mighty Mississippi musical influences as varied as blues, jazz, gospel, soul, folk and rock have flowed to St. Louis. MADCO, the dance company in residence at University of Missouri-St. Louis, paid tribute to this “liquid road” in their combination concert and dance performance “Liquid Roads” on April 11-12 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.


With choreography by Gina Patterson and bluesy musical accompaniment by Brian Casserly, Joseph Pastor, Matthew Murdick and Eric Slaughter, the dozen dancers of MADCO, under artistic director Stacy West, took us on a music and dance tour of the Mississippi River. It was a lovely, lively trip indeed.


A festive club-like atmosphere was created by musicians in the lobby before the show and general admission seating which packed the main floor of the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. The band and dancers shared the stage, as one music and dance piece slipped into another with hardly a pause. There was no intermission to break the mood.


The modern dance program was grouped into “scenes,” with themes like “Generations,” “New Beginnings,” “Crossroads,” “Memories,” “Spiritual Waters,” and “Second Line,” each of which evoked life along the Big Muddy river from the 1920s to the 1950s.


The tone of the evening was set by the first scene, “Generations.” The opening musical piece “Liquid Roads,” a sweet romantic ballad with a Southern rock flavor, featured dancers forming couples and sinuous dance moves with dramatic leaps. The dancers’ pale, diaphanous costumes suggested the light, airy clothes of summer, while a line of tall panels screening the musicians at the back of the stage from the dancers at the front. For the second number in the scene, “Louisiana 1927,” sweetness gave way to steaminess and an energetic, flirtatious dance. The panels were rolled to the sides and around stage, forming walls for dancers as lovers to slink around.


The only sets were the rolling panels, which were moved to create walls or backdrops. On one side, it looked like smooth, new metal or light-colored vertical blinds. On the other, they looked like rusty, corrugated metal siding, divided by wooden planks, suggesting galvanized metal buildings or shacks in the rural South. The rusty side of the panels created a rough backwoods or bayou flavor while a more sophisticated or urban setting was evoked with the smoother side. Different eras were suggested by costumes that ranged from slinkier, flowing ’20s and ’30s styles to buttoned-up styles of the ’40s and ’50s.


The musical selections were varied and included familiar tunes such as “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “What a Wonderful World,” plus the gospel “Down To The River To Pray” (which the dancers actually sang), bluesy folk lament “St. James Infirmary” and jazzy, jumping “Wang Dang Doodle.”


Everything in the program was enjoyable but there were some showstoppers. “Wonderful World” featured trumpet player and lead singer Brian Casserly center stage, while “snow” fell from above on the dancers entwined as couples spinning around in romantic modern dance moves that painted the perfect image. Rather than the expected intermission to clear the stage, the dancers appeared with push brooms for the next number, the spiritual “Wasn’t That A Mystery,” sailing gracefully across the stage singly and in groups, a very clever and visually-pleasing solution to a practical problem.


Other striking numbers included the playful “Fish Vendor,” with dancer Raii Morehead selling ice cream (not fish) to flirtatious dancers skipping by, and “Suitcase Joe” which featured percussionist Joe Pastor drumming on piles of suitcases, as dancers came and went, toting and trading suitcases like at a busy 1940s railroad station.


The biggest production number was “St. James Infirmary,” where dancers traded the pastels of earlier costumes for black, with dashes of white and red, and somber umbrellas for an impressive dance piece that evoked a New Orleans style funeral.


The show quickly returned to its party mood with “Wang Dang Doodle” and other lively numbers. The finale was a party on stage, with the troupe dancing down the aisles and returning to the stage with audience members to dance with them. The party continued after the show with music and dancing in the lobby, as the audience was served ice cream cones, a perfect touch to wrap up a wonderful evening.

©  The Current 2014