Houston Metropolitan Dance Company’s Mixing it Up revisited the past and premiered three new works, all the while looking toward the future as their dream for a new dance center becomes a reality. With the announcement of a signed letter of intent from the developer and a sneak peak of building designs, the audience was energized from the start by the potential a new space holds for the company, its school and outreach programs, and the Houston dance community.
Making quite an entrance, the full company lurched, jolted, and jerked single file down the far aisle of the theater to the electronic sounds of the musical duo Matmos. The work, “A Polite Social Gesture,” by choreographer Peter Chu which was premiered in 2004 by the company, displayed the group’s expertise in precise and fierce unison movement. Unfortunately, it was a point that would be driven home often throughout the program. In the majority were large group works that featured all or most of the company dancing lengthy passages simultaneously. It was a relief, therefore, when, on occasion, solo and duet work made an appearance, particularly in light of the considerable performance skills of members like Marlana Walsh-Doyle, Kiki Lucas, and Jocelyn Thomas.
Formerly presented works on the docket also included “The Yawning“ by Brock Clawson, a work not unlike David Parson’s Sleep Study in thematic material yet not as cleverly crowd-pleasing; “Whatever Lola Wants,” a short one-liner of a dance by Joe Celej that offered some needed comic relief (I’m pretty sure the program should have included a disclaimer that some fruits indeed were harmed during the making of this production); and Pattie Obey’s “Zoom,” a jazzy jaunt featuring eight female cast members. The dancers’ fast-paced zips across stage never really zoomed but, these ladies were enjoying themselves, taking the audience along for the ride.
Of the three newest works, “Chambre Noire” by international choreographer and New York City Ballet Arts faculty member, Nina Buisson, stood out as the most fully realized and structured offering. Lauren Garson, showed impressive fluidity and control as she maneuvered around, over and across a low table while her counterpart, Marlana Walsh-Doyle, exuded a strong, though remote presence. An expansion of a duet created for Nina Buisson Contemporary Move, this piece would ultimately have benefited from a more cultivated integration of additional cast members. The work’s second act incorporated six more of the company to little affect as they performed duet material in unison. It was not until the final moments of this composition that two delightful feats – the daring transport of Jocelyn Thomas, held aloft atop the table, and the scaling of a mountain of people – revealed a purpose and payoff for additional performers.
Houston Met’s Resident Choreographer, Kiki Lucas, and Met Too’s Pre-Professional Company Director, jhon r. stronks also presented new works. Lucas’s “Imbalanced, Detrimental, Overbearing Thoughts,” was strong in its execution and offered some pleasing contemporary partnering but it suffered from a stream of consciousness style that seemed to drift around an intention that even Lucas’s accompanying text did not illuminate. The unflattering, shapeless shirts worn in this piece hid the dancers’ lines, one of this troupes strongest attributes.
A work in four acts, Stronks’ contribution felt like three separate statements. The first segment featured a fresh and promising use of contemporary music and joyous group choreography, blending the rhythmical undulations of jazz with a contemporary aesthetic. There was shared connective tissue between this and the work’s bookend, however, the middle portions were incongruous. A fashion show of dancers in Studio 54-esque costumes felt like an inside joke to which only those associated with the company or school were privy. And, a short segment set to a jazz spiritual seemed heavy-handed with it’s emotive camaraderie and hand-holding. Though met with a response that brought many audience members to their feet, I couldn’t help but feel puzzled by the finale to this long evening.
In fact, as someone seeing Houston Met for the first time, the entire production left me feeling a bit confused. A strong ensemble with talented professionals, the company offers strong and committed performances. With virtuosic flexibility and power backing up each movement, this band of dancers could execute a wide range of choreographic material. Yet, the offerings on this night seemed one-dimensional despite the mixture of jazz and contemporary styling. I had the feeling that with this material Houston Met is preaching to its choir of supportive and enthusiastic patrons. As the Houston Metropolitan Dance Center continues to dream big, its dance company has great potential for expanding its dance audience, however to do so may require a diversification and push to explore new, more layered choreographic territory.