Last weekend in Edison Theatre, the Washington University Dance Theatre performed at a level one scarcely expects of dancers who are primarily undergraduates, whether at a conservatory or (as is the case with Wash. U.'s dance program) a school of liberal arts. Most dancers-in-training never have the opportunity to dance the works of the great choreographers, but the Worseck Dance Fund made it possible to bring in Marina Eglevsky from the Balanchine Trust to teach four dancers the exquisite "Waltz Fantasie" and to allow Cecil Slaughter to restage excerpts from James Truitte's "With Timbrel and Dance, Praise His Name." Both pieces received excellent performances, but choreography by Wash. U. faculty members and an erstwhile artist-in-residence turned out to be the most enjoyable, interesting and downright unforgettable dance of the recital.
Mary-Jean Cowell, coordinator of Wash. U.'s dance program, is best known for her wry comic numbers, and we got one in what could easily have been a spoof of "Lilac Garden," a glittery, large-ensemble re-creation of the Roaring '20s called "Doin' the Grizzly Bear." Cowell's much more serious "Wilderness" also involved a number of dancers, the most interesting of whom, Michael Fine, conducted a little seminar on getting up in the air and staying there. Christine O'Neal's sensuous "Arco Iris," set to some Latin-flavored piano pieces by Alberto Ginastera, blended the aura of elegant ballroom with classical en pointe, resulting in cool, gently dark dance.
The evening's high point came with the genuinely arresting "Ephemeral Forms," a collaboration between choreographer David Marchant and painter Prem Makeig that got more to see on Edison Theatre's stage than the eyes could take in at one time. Marchant's seven women dancers, representing as wide an assortment of body types as you could imagine, performed in front of a cyclorama on which Makeig's on-the-spot computer art was projected. The projector's powerful beam also silhouetted the dancers on the cyclorama along with the art, so the motion, shadow and substance, line and color, were nearly overwhelming. Then a gauzy scrim came down, so Makeig's art first appeared vividly on it, then much diminished on the cyclorama. Dancers in front or behind the scrim pushed everything to near-overload. John Cage's gong-and-bell music and Marcus Leab's bold lighting sent everything over the top. Wow!
The evening ended with Cecil Slaughter's "Surrender," a heavily African-inspired composition to music by Mariam Makeba and Aural Savage Hotbed, for soloist (Patty Navarro on Saturday) and four dancers. The first section is a slow, sensuous piece for the four women that leads into a long, cool solo, primarily on the floor, and finishes with upbeat ensemble work. It was all a good deal of fun, and the dancers were certainly competent, but I would have liked a little more attitude from the dancers.