Mary Lou’s Mass is like a prayer on stage: a spirited homily rooted in the Southern church, an uplifting sermon on life’s trials and ecstasies.
Later this month, students from WUSTL’s Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences will perform excerpts from Mary Lou’s Mass — a groundbreaking collaboration between choreographer Alvin Ailey and jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams — as part of Rootedness, Mobility and Migration, the 2012 Washington University Dance Theatre concert.
The annual showcase, which takes place Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 in Edison Theatre, will feature dozens of dancers, selected by audition, performing seven new and classic works by guest and faculty choreographers.
“We are rooted in the traditions of our culture and of our dance ‘ancestors,’ whose artistry we still embody and honor,” says David Marchant, professor of the practice in dance.
Dance also speaks to the mobility of the human body, and can serve as a metaphor for the changing world around us.
“As artists and human beings, we are constantly in a process of migration,” Marchant says, “moving from where we have been to a future unfolding.”
The Women of Ailey
Mary Lou’s Mass (1971) is one of four works featured in The Women of Ailey, a medley of excerpts selected and restaged by Sylvia Waters and Elizabeth Roxas. Both former principal dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the pair was on campus earlier this fall as part of the Alvin Ailey Legacy Residency.
“For me, the title refers to the strong presence that women have in Ailey’s works,” says Cecil Slaughter, director of WUDT and a senior lecturer in dance. “It opens with a piece from Mary Lou’s Mass, then goes into the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ section of Blues Suite (1958), a major early work.
“Next comes The Lark Ascending (1972), an abstract and lyrical solo,” adds Slaughter, who serves as rehearsal coach. Concluding the medley are two sections from Streams (1970) — the first full-length dance Ailey choreographed without a framing plot.
Another highlight of the evening will be Road Kill, a work for nine dancers by visiting artist Ivan Pulinkala. A native of New Dehli, Pulinkala employs the highway and its attendant brutalities as a metaphor for “our inhumane fast-paced society.”
“The choreography uses humor and a distinctly upbeat score to represent that frivolity of life in modern society,” Pulinkala explains. In a clever twist, the dancers perform wearing Heelys shoes — a kind of sneaker with a single roller skate beneath the heel — that literally propel them in space.
Also on the program are:
Migratory Roots: Mary-Jean Cowell, PhD, associate professor and coordinator of the Dance Program, worked with eight dancers to develop a group of short movement themes that continuously build upon one another.
Flyways: Marchant worked with 10 dancers to improvise a score inspired by bird migrations. The score, and its associated lighting, “give the performers rules for coherence,” Marchant explains, “yet also affords them agency to respond spontaneously.”
Agita: Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, professor of the practice in dance and director of the Ballet Program, choreographs this delicately narrative work, which explores the effects of anticipation, loss and longing in the lives of five women.
Taara: Adjunct instructor Asha Prem choreographs this work for eight dancers, inspired by the Tibetan goddess of mercy.
Grid: Slaughter revisits this large-scale work for 23 dancers. Originally choreographed in 2007, the piece explores the energies of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction as they intersect across racial, cultural and gender boundaries.
Performances of Rootedness, Mobility and Migration will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.
Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, senior citizens and Washington University faculty and staff, and are available through the Edison Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
For more information, call (314) 935-6543.