Uptown Dance Company threw its hat into the Houston ring of contemporary dance ensembles not much more than a year ago, becoming an all-professional troupe after focusing for several years on providing pre-professionals at Uptown Dance Centre (the company’s affiliated school) an outlet to hone their performance skills. Their latest project, Dance Infusion, staged October 18th at Zilkha Hall, displayed a capable cast of dancers performing entertaining and tasteful choreography. Though the repertoire was eclectic in mood and theme, the mix of contemporary styles lacked innovation and occasionally charisma. However, with support from another of Houston’s mixed-rep ensembles, Revolve Dance Company, as well as guest artists on loan from Houston Ballet, Uptown Dance Company presented a classy show.
The core ensemble consists of five primary members, Adrian Ciobanu, Phoebe Waggoner, Lindsay Cortner, Martha Perdomo, and Ray Dones, along with three apprentices rounding out the group. Many not only have a history of training with Artistic Director Beth Gulledge-Brown, but also do double duty as teachers at Uptown Dance Centre. On the whole, these accomplished professionals consistently dance well together and display technical finesse. Dones has an electric energy on stage, his high level of attack often draws the eye. Waggoner is another standout, exuding a mature confidence in her approach to each work.
Chano, by Chet Walker (most famous for his work on the award-winning musical FOSSE) was a lively end to Act I and a choreographic high point of the evening. The work, set to Lalo Schrifrin’s spirited Afro-Cuban jazz composition of the same name, is a fun and provocative frolic. The dancers executed the broad and energetic movement with clarity. They looked hot, they moved with conviction, but missing was the go-for-broke personality and flirtatious spark (dancer to dancer, and dancer to audience) that would have made this piece a show-stopper.
A similar problem occurred in the production’s finale, Gulledge-Brown’s Dancing Days, which was set to selected tunes from the Led Zeppelin catalog. Ciobanu and Waggoner kicked off the work with a dramatic duet that was suitably rock and roll. Lighting designer Jeremy Choate makes the color green sexy, silhouetting the pair against an emerald backdrop. Later, the entire cast engages in some playful shirt exchanges which are delightful surprises but are not enough to fill the expansive accompaniment. Though a robust passage of unison choreography comes close to hitting the runway, the piece never manages liftoff.
Paola Georgudis’ more tranquil contemporary dance piece Orbita successfully integrated young student, Emily Healey, who showed great poise throughout her appearance. Orbita seemed innately suited to this small band of dancers. An introspective expression of relationships and the expanding circle of family, the choreography is imbued with cultural dance traditions and shows clear development. It was also the one piece I would have liked to see Ray Dones approach with more subtlety and nuance. His own work, The Beauty of Being Numb, was a better vehicle for his supercharged fluidity. A clanging industrial score (in this case, by electronic musician, Richard Devine) as a metaphor for detachment is not a new idea. However, as an opening number, it highlighted the polished dexterity of the five-member company.
As always, the talented dancers of Revolve Dance Company performed with passion. A series of solos and duets, their work Everyone has a Story features some gorgeous phrasing within the context of a collection of moody love songs. However, there is little else tying each section together. Watching these dancers, it is easy to sit back and just enjoy the aesthetics. When the work ends, however, questions linger. “Who are these people?” “What brought this mismatched group together?” “Why were they huddled around a trash can fire?”
Gulledge-Brown’s In The Moment, performed by Houston Ballet corps members, Lauren Ciobanu and Alex Pandiscio was a beguiling addition to the production. Gulledge-Brown’s sensitive and melodic composition was befitting this well-matched duo. Free of narrative, the contemporary ballet piece had a mesmerizing affect, as did Ciobanu’s stunning line which was fortunately unconcealed by Laura Phillips Hampton’s graceful costume design.
Overall, Gulledge-Brown has chosen quality and sophisticated material for her company to perform. Good dancing is the core and strength of this fusion (or infusion) of artists. It will be interesting to see how Uptown Dance Company take things to the next level as they strive to distinguish and promulgate their voice and vision within the Houston dance community.