BWW Dance Review: MORDANCE Celebrates 4th Anniversary at Sheen Center

By: Apr. 26, 2016

Runway ready bodies, gorgeous faces, revealing costumes, and excellent technicians. With a company of dancers whose credits include work with Pennsylvania Ballet, Ailey II, Polish National Ballet, Metropolitan Opera, Lar Lubovitch, and American Ballet Theatre, Artistic Director Morgan McEwen had all of the ingredients necessary to make MorDance's 4th season a smashing success. Which argues the question, what went wrong? For starters the choreography proved unimaginative, though that was the least of what ailed this April 22nd, 2016 concert at the Sheen Center. That distinction goes to the terrible music and lighting.

For most of the concert the dancers kept their eyes glued to the floor leaving one curious as to what was so fascinating about the marley. It turned out that this was their solution for keeping their sight intact. The lighting alternated between leaving the dancers unseen or glaringly over lit. As to the music, that tended towards what one hears in the background of light romantic films. That is with the exception of a commissioned score by Nilko Andreas for "Apart From the Peripheral Music", whose music displaced the choreography to the periphery. This music -- performed live with zest and great depth by Serafim Smigelskiy, Mujan Hosseinzadeh, and Mr. Andreas -- enveloped the audience in lush Romantic imagery and Spanish tinged rhythms. Ignoring the blinding red lighting for a moment, I allowed myself to take in the musical portrait of wind swept hills and the promise of adventure around the corner. Returning to the choreography I was met with 4 dancers moving dutifully in unison or a trio that waited for a soloist to finish bland material that seemed designed to eat up time. There was a sense of longing in the movement that never fully developed because the piece came to an abrupt ending just as the dancing was getting started.

This tiresome formula typified Ms. McEwen's approach to choreography: open with a lengthy pre-amble composed of gratuitous legato movement before getting down to business. One wishes that she would have simply gotten on with it, especially given who her dancers were. Though they all come from radically different schools of training, it is clear that they share a need for speed. Once they were allowed to cut loose, the work soared. Despite the mission statement, which declares that MorDance creates classical ballet for the contemporary audience, Ms. McEwen has buried the lede beneath a trove of feckless "courtly affectations". It came off as a sleek city girl (or boy) trying to impress the in-laws with false manners.

Ultimately what redeemed the evening was being able to watch dancers like the beautiful Megan Dickinson bite into the phrase work with her dagger like feet and seamless transitions. Watching this dancer proved a lesson in the adage that "dancing is all about the transitions". Equally wonderful was the majesty of Adrianna de Svastich, an imperial beauty with steely extension, just like Balanchine loved; the gentle approach of Kara Chan, who seemed to give herself entirely to the music, regardless of how banal; and the amazonian Izabela Szylinksa, who danced with wild abandon, like Heather Watts reborn. The men acquitted themselves well, though in this company the women rule. Appearing courtesy of American Ballet Theatre, Stephanie Williams deployed solid balances and crisp pirouettes in "Propinquity Music", which --despite the ear worm music -- was the closest the choreography came to delivering a hit. While it was dumb fun, here was an example of Ms. McEwen showing what she could really do when she let go of polite pretensions. Minus a few tacky moments -- was the chest pumping with arms that opened slightly from first position really necessary? -- and the fact that it all felt slightly derivative of the flash from William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated", we finally had proof that Ms. McEwen possesses a distinctive choreographic voice. It is still too early to say what exactly that voice is. Hopefully she will continue to develop it in this vein.

Photograph by Kelsey H Campbell.