Review: MADCO UPRISING

Modern American Dance Company, better known as MADCO, took to the Lee Stage in the Touhill performing Arts Center November 15-17th. The company celebrated its 37th year with five pieces included in the Madco; Uprising program.

The program began with a jolt of energy in the premiere of ‘Dew Dap’, choreographed by guest Mikey Thomas. The soundtrack featured a dizzying range of music and recording, from disco to swing to repetitive counting. The piece had an air of street-wise musical theater; it was quick-stepping and lively.Mostly danced by the full company, there were a few moments near the end when the group wasn’t quite together. It was never anything that looked like a mistake, perhaps one person just a split second later than the rest of the group springing into a jump. Because it was fast and staged in a way that let us see each dancer in full picture , it was unforgiving should anyone be that hair late. Their costumes were graphic and flattering, though the striped pants worn by some reminded me of Robin Thicke at the MTV awards. Overall, the piece was fun and enjoyable, but perhaps could have been a little tighter.

(Photos by Steve Truesdale)truesdale2

Next was a repeat of ‘Land’s Edge’, the piece reset from Pilobolus for MADCO as part of the Dance St. Louis’ New Dance Horizons 2013 program. It was very enjoyable to see the piece in the Lee theater, which provided a more intimate setting, allowing the audience to see what exquisite character these dancers bring to their performance. Every nuance of gesture was visible, and elements such as makeup and even music were more clear and added to the brilliant weirdness and charm of the piece. The stage picture was darker in the opening which made it hard to see their feet. This would, in normal circumstances, be a problem but added to an illusion that these dream-like characters were floating.

Following the intermission was another premier, ‘Lockstep’ from guest choreographer James Robey. The piece began with some conceptual points of interest; a solo dancer emerging from the audience with drum sticks, banging out a rhythm as the rest of the dancers followed her lead and made their way to the stage. Tension began mounting in the piece as the group made a circle around a solo male, creating percussive rhythm on the floor. Even with all of the added concepts; sticks, unusual entrances, a circle of drum sticks in the downstage corner that dancers sometimes ‘played’ in, the piece missed the mark for me. The music was amorphous and didn’t seem to drive a clear mood, or at least one that complimented the tone of the bright, shiny pants/ crop top/ shirtless costumes worn by the dancers. They seemed to have an exotic aesthetic but the choreography was forgettble and at times, unflattering to the dancers. They sometimes- especially on the slow developpe efface- seemed to struggle and these are strong dancers. It seems there were too many things going on in this piece and in the end it didn’t go anywhere.

Next was ‘In the Grip’ a premier from former MADCO dancer, Lindsay Hawkins. Having worked closely with the company for many years, it would make sense that Hawkins would know how to highlight their strengths. However, the cast of six men featured new members in the group as well as seasoned favorites, and each added individual quality and presence in an inventive and touching piece. The addition of ropes added analytic possibilities as well as a an exciting tool for lifts, partnering, and creating obstacles in the stage. One lift in particular where the group held dancer Brandon Fink caught atop a tangle of rope was especially impressive. The piece had the sense of narrative and depth of emotion without being literal, using only the dancing to evoke feeling.  To watch this piece was to forget that you were in a theater at a show, it felt more like a glimpse into something private and transcendent. When I think of rope, I think of both useful tool and a potential weapon, something binding. It was unclear what the relationship was between the dancers and what purpose exactly the rope served but the piece was choreographed beautifully, lit and danced wonderfully, curiously thought-provoking and emotionally striking.

The program concluded with the premier of ‘Seven’, choreographed by guest Jennifer Archibald. The piece, featuring the full company, was inspired by Olympic Gold-medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and included her voice over describing the mentality, work ethic, and drive of champions. This was a piece with a simple and clear focus and it allowed the dancers to showcase their skills in a way that felt both fitting to the theme of Joyner-Kersee’s words and inspiring, as if they were describing their own journey as dancers. Especially memorable were Nicole Whitesell and Claire Hilleren in impossibly fast duet with aggressive floorwork. Elyse Andersen did a turn finishing in a sustained arabesque that gave me chills.The peice was a powerful reminder of the will power required to achieve greatness, and demonstrated the pay-off.

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The final piece, the Uprising program, and the 37 years of MADCO’s existence is a testament to the powerful combination of hard work and passion. As author of Darwinism in Morals, Frances Power Cobbe, once wrote,

‘Ours is the old, old story of every uprising race or class or order. The work of elevation must be wrought by ourselves or not at all‘.

Those involved with the show have done their part. Now we just have to wonder if we’ve done ours.

truesdale

No pointing fingers, I stood up at the curtain call.

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