The dance begins in desperation. A man sprints across the stage, his urgency unnoticed. All around, figures laugh and walk and continue about their ways.
In “Run,” choreographer Cecil Slaughter explores how we react, or don’t, to the emergencies of others. It’s an ambitious idea, and an ambitious creation. Divided into seven sections, involving 17 dancers, the piece is constructed from discreet yet overlapping incidents — a repeated gesture, a familiar character — that build to a shattering climax.
In December, “Run” will be among seven new works debuting as part of Shifting Limits, the 2013 Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT) concert.
The annual showcase, which takes place in Edison Theatre Friday through Sunday, Dec. 6-8, will feature dozens of dancers, selected by audition, performing original choreography by visiting and faculty artists.
A gravitational pull
“Sometimes it feels like we’re all living in different worlds,” he explained of “Run.” “How do we respond to the things happening around us?”
Initially inspired by news of the war in Syria, Slaughter said that the piece was deeply influenced by the individual skills and talents of the dancers he selected.
“It’s a diverse cast,” he explained. “All of the women are highly trained, and most of the men are new to dance. But they all have great energy, great presence. So how do you fit those things together?
“In a way, that became the theme,” Slaughter added. “What happens as these groups begin to interact, or evolve into other groups? There’s a continuous flow, a gravitational pull.
“It’s like the butterfly effect,” he said. “To see the connections, you have to step back and look at the entire picture.”
West Africa to St. Louis
Also featured will be new works by two distinguished guest artists.
Diadie Bathily, a master dancer from the Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa — and founder of Afriky Lolo — choreographs “River.” The trio mixes live drumming, by Caph P. Guei, with additional percussion created by the dancers themselves.
“Dance, music and story-telling are among the ancient art forms that have flourished for many centuries in Africa,” said Bathily, who emigrated to the United States in 1998. “Ancient African society did not separate their everyday life activities from their music and other cultural experience.”
Rodney Hamilton offers “Tranquility,” a new, contemporary ballet for 11 dancers. A St. Louis native, Hamilton trained at COCA and the Katherine Dunham workshop, among other local institutions. He later attended the Juilliard School and went on to a career as a dancer with Ballet Hispanico in New York.
Other highlights include:
“States of There”: A work for eight dancers by Mary-Jean Cowell, PhD, associate professor and coordinator of the Dance Program. “The dance offers movement images of a variety of human connections,” Cowell said, as well as “awareness of each other at different levels — or the lack of connection.”
“Now, Hear, This”: David Marchant, professor of the practice in dance, leads 11 dancers in creating this improvised composition that explores the spontaneous nature of living. “Dance is fundamentally ephemeral,” Marchant said, “ever-shifting, finding life at the perpetual limit of the present moment.”
“Collage-Tracings-Recycled“: Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, professor of the practice in dance and director of the Ballet Program, offers this new piece for nine dancers. “This work was created around remembrances of ballets danced or witnessed,” she explained. Memories are recycled, reconsidered and rewoven, along with new movements, into a “playful patchwork assemblage.”
“2,756”: Adjunct instructor Wendy Ballard choreographs this contemporary tap dance for five dancers. The title refers to the total number of “beats” performed by each dancer over the course of the five-minute piece.
Performances of Shifting Limits will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8.
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. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
For more information, call (314) 935-6543.