NORMAN — An opening segment of two Duke Ellington numbers, choreographed by Derrick Minter, was an exercise in playfully seductive jazz rhythms, which got the “Contemporary Dance Oklahoma” recital off on the right foot.
The University of Oklahoma's spring modern dance program, choreographed by Minter, Austin Hartel and guest artist Donald McKayle, was a delight, from start to finish.
Sky Cornwell, McKenzie Rollinson and Lyndsay Rosenkrantz wore pleated purple, red and green dresses as they danced around stools, covered with fur stoles, which they eventually put on, in the opener, “Elegance in Three.”
Equally elegant was Minter's second offering, a “suite” during which eight women in pale yellow and two men clad in pants and sheer, glittering open shirts, executed Ellington's cool jazz rhythms, in front of long pale curtains.
More athletic and energetic than sexy was the program's third work, “Syncopated,” choreographed by Hartel to music by Aaron Robinson. Ably performing this peppy “Syncopated” piece were Cornwell, Emily Oliver and Stephanie Shelton, wearing outfits whose red and flesh-toned strips suggested form-fitting exercise attire.
More edgy was “Working Flesh,” a collaboration between Hartel, Stefan Ice and Rick Reeves to music by “EDGE (Corrugated Box) for multi-percussion and tap, written by Bruce Hamilton,” according to program notes. In this nearly science fiction-like Hartel number, robotic sleepers in multicolored leotards, lying face down on top of each other, wake up long enough to tap dance and create strange human sculptural forms.
Interacting with them were Savannah Hawkins in an offbeat black-and-white outfit, as well as Casey Coy and Kathleen McKenna, wearing very little, like some kind of futuristic Mr. and Mrs. America.
Adding to the impact of the company's bizarre movements in “Working Flesh” were an abstract overhead light sculpture, plus multiple kaleidoscopic, polluted factory and other projections on giant screens.
Topping this tour de force in some ways was the sheer joy of running and gesturing figures, with hair flying, in “Tethered,” Hartel's carefree celebration of rock music by the Allman Brothers, David Essex and Ted Nugent. More serious, but equally celebratory, were three excerpts from the “Songs of the Disinherited,” which premiered in 1972 in Los Angeles, and was re-created at OU by guest artist McKayle (assisted by Stephanie Powell).
Omar Humphrey and Kiosh Monroe flexed their muscles as men working in faded denim “Upon the Mountain” in the first part of “Disinherited,” while Emily Jo Haenny danced with expressive abandon in “Angelitos Negros.”
Ending the program on an upbeat note, indeed, was the entire company, as it used the wild movements of its entire bodies to express the sheer joy of “Shaker Life,” in the final excerpt from McKayle's creation. The “Contemporary Dance Oklahoma” production is highly recommended during its remaining performances.
— John Brandenburg