Dance Theatre concert features 50 student dancers

Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT), the annual showcase of professionally choreographed works performed by student dancers, will present its 2007 concert “rEvolutions,” Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Edison Theatre.

Sponsored by the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, performances begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.

Paula Weber (center) associate professor of ballet at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music, works with students during a master dance class at the Mallinckrodt dance studio. Weber was on campus earlier this month to choreograph “Sorbet,” an original work for six dancers, which will be performed this weekend as part of “rEvolutions,” the 2007 Washington University Dance Theatre concert.

“rEvolutions” will feature more than 50 dancers, selected by audition, performing seven works by faculty and guest choreographers.

“It’s a large cast, but we have a particularly strong group of dancers in the department this year,” said Cecil Slaughter, senior lecturer in dance in Arts & Sciences and director of WUDT. “For the choreographers, it meant making some hard choices because there was just so much talent in the room.

“Though some works can be grouped together thematically, they’re all very different — and require different kinds of dancers. I picked dancers not just for the way they move, but for how their personalities come through on stage. Other choreographers might have been looking for more technical dancers, or dancers who can improvise and think on their feet, or dancers who are sensitive to one another and their surroundings,” Slaughter said.

A highlight of the concert will be “Tensile Involvement” (1953), a signature work by the innovative multimedia choreographer Alwin Nikolais (1910-1993). Set by Alberto del Saz, artistic director of the Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance Company, this striking piece consists of 10 performers manipulating a large grid of colorful elastic bands, which are attached to their hands and feet. The resulting patterns and forms require extreme precision yet create an ever-changing cat’s cradle of line, space and kinetic energy.

“Nikolais was a revolutionary choreographer as well as a designer and composer, but many of our students had never seen his work before,” Slaughter said. “With those elastic bands, anything can happen — you really need to be able to think on the spot.”

Earlier this month, “Tensile Involvement” was performed by Utah’s acclaimed Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company as part of “Nikolais Dance Theatre,” an evening-length concert of Nikolais’ choreography presented by Edison Theatre’s OVATIONS! Series.

“We thought it would be very interesting to have students see it performed by a professional company a few weeks before staging it themselves,” Slaughter said. “And of course, having such an important historical work on the concert prompted all of the choreographers to start thinking about our own artistic processes.”

In addition to “Tensile Involvement,” the concert will feature new works by guest artists Diadié Bathily, executive and artistic director of the Afriky Lolo dance company, and Paula Weber, associate professor of ballet at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music.

Bathily’s “Les Amazones du Bénin” tells the story of the Dahomey Amazons, an all-female regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Bénin), West Africa, through a combination of dances from the Malinké and Fon ethnic groups.

Founded in the late 17th century, the Dahomey Amazons remained active for roughly 200 years and were actually given their name by Western observers and historians due to their striking similarities to the Amazons of Greek myth.

Weber’s “Sorbet” blends traditional ballet technique with a movement vocabulary drawn from jazz, modern and ethnic dances. Set to a percussive soundtrack, this work for six dancers was created during a recent residency and consists of five distinct movements.

Other works on the program include:

• “Shifting Sightlines.” Mary-Jean Cowell, associate professor of dance and coordinator of the Dance Program in Arts & Sciences, choreographs this work in collaboration with eight dancers. “The theme of this dance is shifting perceptions of ourselves and others that evolve through time and in relationships with different people and situations,” Cowell said.

• “And All that Jazz.” David W. Marchant, senior lecturer in dance, choreographs this work for 12 dancers, which he describes as “an homage/collage of late 20th-century jazz dance vocabulary, composed in a ‘minimalist’ form.”

• “The Seasons.” Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, senior lecturer in dance and director of the Ballet Program, choreographs this ambitious work for 22 dancers, which “pictures the four seasons in a somewhat different light — at times dramatic but often just playful and poetic.”

• “Grid.” Slaughter choreographs this piece for 18 dancers. “This work is about constructing and deconstructing boundaries such as racial, gender specific and territorial through the exchange of energy,” he said. “It’s based on different patterns — patterns of thought, patterns of behavior, patterns of reaction — and what happens when they intersect.”

Tickets are $15 for the public and $9 for students, senior citizens and faculty and staff and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets. For more information, call 935-6543.