Washington University Dance Theatre to present ‘Common Ground’

Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT), the annual showcase of professionally choreographed works performed by student dancers, will present “Common Ground” at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 and 6 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 7 in Edison Theatre.

Sponsored by the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences, the performance will feature more than three dozen student dancers, selected by audition, in eight works by faculty and guest choreographers. Pieces range from contemporary dance and restagings of modern classics to dances drawing on Chinese and Indian traditions.

“Falling Petals,” a dance from the Washington University Dance Theatre showcase Dec. 5-7, combines contemporary dance with Chinese practice and philosophy.

“Common Ground” will highlight two important historical works set by distinguished visiting artists. James Jordan, ballet master for the Kansas City Ballet, has set “Dark Elegies” (1937), the classic modern ballet by Antony Tudor (1908-1987).

Choreographed to Gustav Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children),” this poignant work for 12 dancers depicts a community in mourning and is filled with halting movements and cradling gestures that suggest grieving parents.

Liz Lerman, founding artistic director of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, has restaged “Still Crossing” (1986), a large ensemble piece that The New York Times described as “a visionary work of extraordinary eloquence.” One of Lerman’s signature works, “Still Crossing” enlists nine primary dancers as well as a score of untrained community volunteers to explore both the promise and the hardships of the immigrant experience.

“Both ‘Dark Elegies’ and ‘Still Crossing’ mark centennials,” said Cecil Slaughter, senior lecturer in dance and director of WUDT. “‘Dark Elegies’ commemorates the 100th anniversary of Tudor’s birth, while ‘Still Crossing’ was originally choreographed for the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. And both works are about the idea of community — one in mourning, the other in celebration.”

That sense of community extends to other works choreographed by the PAD dance faculty. “We’re all very different choreographers and come from different dance traditions, but there’s also an underlying sense of unity,” Slaughter said. “We’re all trying to expand our individual processes and, with WUDT, find a kind of common artistic ground. This is probably the most stylistically diverse yet thematically coherent concert we’ve given.”

Also on the program:

Manic Music II.” Mary-Jean Cowell, associate professor and coordinator of the Dance Program, choreographs this wryly humorous work for 11 dancers. Inspired by the American Federation of Musicians’ early 20th-century ban on Ragtime music, the piece suggests a kind of dance mania, in which listeners are unable to resist Ragtime’s “diabolical” allure.

Falling Petals.” Ting-Ting Chang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the PAD, offers this work for 10 dancers, which combines contemporary dance with Chinese practice and philosophy. The piece recently received The Bette & Bill Pattis Grand Award in the 10th Annual Dance Under Stars Choreography Festival at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Calif.

Ganesha Sharanam.” Adjunct instructor Asha Prem choreographs this classical Indian work for six dancers, which begins with a series of sculptural poses and also includes a description of Ganesha, the Hindu god.

Overdrive.” Slaughter choreographs this piece for eight dancers, which is excerpted from a larger work created for his company, The Slaughter Project. Inspired by traffic, the dance presents “an acceleration of process, action and interaction.”

Passion.” Keith Tyrone Williams, adjunct lecturer in dance, choreographs this Afro-Caribbean flavored work for nine dancers. “Not until we acknowledge and embrace our passions do we truly live in a state of ‘soul’ satisfaction,” said Williams, a former dancer for Kathryn Dunham who now teaches Dunham technique. “Otherwise, we are in bondage to mere existing.”

Common Ground.” The evening concludes with this grand-scaled work by David W. Marchant, senior lecturer in dance. Recalling the raucous energy of raves and rock concerts, the dance “brings the entire Washington University Dance Theatre cast out onto the stage and invites audience members to stand and join, dissolving the proscenium theater boundary, bringing all of us together on ‘common ground.'”

Tickets — $10 for students, seniors and faculty and staff and $15 to the public — are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543.