Magic and loss with TU Dance: Caroline Palmer reviews "Ash and Dust"

Ash and Dust
Southern Theater
Through June 29
Review by Caroline Palmer

Loss is a common theme on stage because it is such a frequent, and generally unwanted, presence in our lives. Although it is a universal experience, loss manifests itself in deeply personal ways and artists are constantly exploring new ways to convey the nuances of grief, helplessness and isolation.

In TU Dance’s “Ash and Dust,” which premiered this weekend at the Southern Theater, choreographer Uri Sands places co-artistic director and life partner Toni Pierce-Sands at the center of a work in which she must find a way to cope with a world gone wrong. It’s a dark place, to be sure, but the emotional and physical journey Pierce-Sands undertakes is worth following, not only because it is well-performed but also because it is realistic in its refusal to end neatly.

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The actual loss driving “Ash and Dust” is unclear but midway through the work one senses that it may not be so literal but rather a sort of insanity. The company members greet Pierce-Sands with agile movement and forced smiles, they whirl through the space, only partly mindful of her grief. Each shift in their energy seems to represent a different state of mind. Pierce-Sands keeps her arms tightly gripped around her torso but when they finally break free a certain stiffness remains, reflecting pent-up tension, sorrow and anger. Karin Olson’s lighting captures the sharp angles, heightening each brittle movement. This glimpse into private pain is unsettling but Pierce-Sands moderates her performance. She doesn’t find peace, necessarily, but rather an almost suspended state of being, contrasted by the earthbound dancers who kneel before her.

The rest of the TU concert has a decidedly lighter tone and the works include 2007’s dream-like “For You.” Pierce-Sands invited an audience member to take a seat on stage and he remained there throughout the dance, a lucky close-up witness to perpetual motion. The performers regularly made eye contact with him as they generated a sense of near ecstasy through bounding leaps, acrobatic lifts and generous patterns that spilled across the floor. Dressed in wide skirts and loose pants, the dancers had androgynous identities and it was easy, at times, to imagine the work as a hallucination of sorts. We were the audience watching someone watch a dance, trying to imagine his experience, and this play on perspective was a welcome twist.

“Likedatliciousonicdindaadaa,” also a premiere, offered an opportunity for the company to just let go. Featured performers Christopher LaPlante, Alanna Morris, Winston Dynamite Brown and Sands deftly combined hip-hop with more traditional elements, punctuating break dancing and popping with arabesques. The work is meant to be a high-octane, playful crowd-pleaser. Rounding out the program is the elegant 2003 work “Lady,” set to the complex vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This work kicks off the show with a sense of boisterous community but it also includes a duet for Sands and Pierce-Sands performed in silence. The pair embodies economy and ease whenever they share the stage together. They lead their young company with a considerable presence. -- Caroline Palmer

$28. Thurs. to Sat. at 8:00 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (also Sat. June 28 at 2 p.m.) Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.; 612.340.1725; www.southerntheater.org. Through June 29.


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