BWW Review: MADCO and UMSL Music Department's Superb PULSE - A MADCO CABARET PERFORMANCE
If you look up the definition of the word pulse in a dictionary, or at www.dictionary.com as I did, you find that the third meaning completely resonates with PULSE - A MADCO (Modern American Dance Company) Cabaret Performance, which is a collaborative effort with the UMSL Music Department. The "rhythmic recurrence of strokes, vibrations, or undulations", captures the spirit and essence of this thoroughly enjoyable experience. While considered a "work-in-progress", to a degree, I would have to say that it rises well above that plateau to reach considerable heights as an experience into how music and dance intertwine. Music provides the rhythms and sounds that dancers can move or react to, whether balletic, theatrical, or modern, etc, in nature and style. PULSE takes that a step further with a series of five examples of how they can actually interact down to the subtlest note or phrase, and it's set to a score, that was performed with amazing precision, that runs the gamut from classical pieces to newly created ones, to standards, to free-form jazz. A total trip through music and dance itself, divided up into five sections, each featuring a different choreographer, and its own selection of musical choices. It's an absolute success, and it's challenging, playful, filled with moments of both grace and humor, and brimming with athleticism and energy.
The first section is called "Left and Right", choreographed by Lindsay Hawkins. Divided into three parts, and scored with music from Muzio Clementi,Valery Gavrilin, and Claude Debussy, it's a delightful excursion that starts the evening off on the right foot, so to speak. It features a changing pairing of dancers reacting individually to the way this collection of compositions so ably conjures up specific imagery with their series of melodic twists and turns. The dancers (Elyse Andersen, Nicole Whitesell, Brandon Fink, Sam Mitchell, Claire Hilleren and Rafael Tillery) and musicians (Grant Beckman, Siqi Luo, and Paige Donovan) are precise and impeccable.
"The Realm Between" follows, which features new music composed by Joseph Pastor that creates a dissonant landscape for choreographer Claire Hilleren to interpret. It's amazing the way the music and dance combine to communicate the feelings of being trapped in a kind of exhausting and stressful nightmare world that constantly interrupts our ability to function. It's a very relevant section in terms of how our own modern day lives are in constant turmoil, and it makes exciting and expressionistic use of dancers (Belicia Beck, Lindsay Hawkins, Darrell Hyche, Marcus Johnson, Daryon Kent, Jeff Mitchell, Sam Mitchell, Rafael Tillery, and Nicole Whitesell) and musicians (Chad Pleasant, Adelka Rybarova, Sam Larson, Mel Priese, Mike Owens, Matthew Clark, Matt Sullentrup, and Joe Eckelkamp).
"L'interdit", a word which refers to the aroma or fragrance of something, is more than capably choreographed by Brandon Fink, and utilizes a series of more familiar standards: "Fever", "Feeling Good", and "Whatever Lola Wants". A man is pursued by three separate women, all of whom find their attractions brought forth from something of his personal articles (a hat, jacket, glasses, and a tie). Malena Smith belts out these numbers with class and elegance, neatly capturing each song's steamy underbelly. Fink's work is humorous and mixes in a number of traditional styles, yet remains uniquely modern. Kalina Bartlett, Lindsay Hawkins and Elyse Andersen all contribute excellent work as they react to the wonderful interpretations by musicans: Kwanae Johnson, Ryan Blankenship, Kyle Allen, Ethan Saake, Mike Owens, Matthew Clark, Nick Ayala, and Joe Eckelkamp.
"The Way of the Elders", composed and performed on congas by Music Director Matthew Henry, is a solo work conceived and superbly executed (including his costume) by Ronderrik Mitchell. With only an alter and Henry on stage with his congas, Mitchell re-enacts a kind of religious ritual that blends perfectly with Henry's music. It's a dynamic change of pace that nicely focuses our attention on cultural tradition, while also enacting the emotion that goes hand in hand with it.
"Line Up Low Down" closes the night with a trio of the kind of exciting and unexpected jazz you would expect from the tortured genius that drove Miles Davis to experiment with the genre, carving out a series of intense and unforgettable albums and individual cuts in the process. Bebe Miller's choreography gives us a frenetic and engaging take on how something as fragmented and unpredictable as this free-form music manages to provide the perfect kinetic setting for a host of movements that are as undeniably powerful as the accompaniment. Elyse Andersen, Kalina Bartlett, Belicia Beck, Brandon Fink, Lindsay Hawkins, Darrel Hyche, Marcus Johnson, Jeff Mitchell, Rafael Tillery, and Nicole Whitesell provide us with a kind of controlled chaos that's in keeping with the music Miles produced, here given a full-bodied treatment by Kyle Allen, Nick Ayala, Ryan Blankenship, Matthew Henry, Kwanae Johnson, Ethan Saake, and Joe Winters. A true triumph of execution and pairing.
Kimberly Klearman also deserves mention for the fabulous lighting scheme that informs each and every section of PULSE with its own specific identity. And, so does costume designer Felia Davenport for her work on "Line Up Low Down".
MADCO's PULSE was performed March 11-12, 2016 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, and it received a great deal of well-deserved applause. Artistic Director Stacy West continues to provide shows that entertain and inform, while allowing her charges the opportunity to strut their stuff. This collaborative effort with the UMSL Music Department was truly special.