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Review: MADCO's 40th Anniversary Results in Amazing Production of FREEDOM

Before the performance of MADCO's FREEDOM took place the four choreographers who created this piece, along with Executive and Artistic Director Stacy West, took the stage to discuss the genesis of their work, and to take questions from the packed audience who gathered to witness these amazing segments. Drawing on research from Washington University's Olin Library for historical perspective, combined with the death in 2014 of Michael Brown in Ferguson, each choreographer created a unique experience that reflected on the theme of civil rights. This is an extremely timely production that was very well received by the audience in attendance. This is MADCO's 40th anniversary, and a short video which played before the dancers took the stage reinforced the vast array of incredibly talented people who have been involved in the company both onstage and off. The performance itself featured four different takes on the issues mentioned above, and it was a huge triumph.

Cecil Slaughter's REPASS opened the show, mixing music from a variety of sources, as well as a poem by Sonia Sanchez, to create a sense of politics and people in conflict. The troupe energetically conveyed this theme with their movements, and it was a great way to open the proceedings. This was followed by Jennifer Archibald's DIRT, which took an organic, and almost tribal approach in its execution. Nat King Cole's version of the song "Smile" allowed each performer the opportunity to reveal their own ethnic heritage before the piece kicked in fully with a soundtrack provided by Anilah Medicine Chant. The chant was an inspired choice that fit this piece like a glove.

After an intermission Nejla Yatkin's BETWEEN LINES OF...kicked off the second half. Breaking the concept into three sections, memories, reflections, and dreams, allowed the performers to explore the full range of the concept presented. "Memories" featured a unique sound design by Enki Andrews, while "Reflections" utilized the voices of the company to great effect. This culminated in the more joyous celebration of "Dreams", which featured the music of Art Blakely, and allowed certain performers to embody the various solos that drive this jazz work. "Dreams"seemed to draw upon choreography that wouldn't be out of place in a Broadway style show, and that interesting juxtaposition wowed the crowd, momentarily lifting their collective spirits.

Gina Patterson's IT IS closed the night with challenging choreography that brimmed with emotion. Music was again a key part (Peter Bradley Adams, Armand Amar, and Olafur Arnalds), but Patterson also used the moments between the compositions to explore her style, which often makes use of the noises the performers themselves actually make in the course of their physical exertion, as well as carefully placed breaths and grunts.

All of these works were marvelously executed by the troupe, and it's amazing that each choreographer was able to create such different takes on the subject matter in such a short amount of time. The dancers themselves deserve far more recognition than I could possibly give them. They were tasked with quickly learning the moves designed by each choreographer, and in styles that ran the gamut. Suffice to say, Elyse Andersen, Belicia Beck, Claire Hilleren, Darrell Hyche, Daryon Kent, Jeff Mitchell, Nicole Whitesell, Natalie Williams, and guest dancer Marcus Johnson are an immensely gifted group that display copious amounts of athleticism and grace in their performances. They brought these varied works to life with considerable skill gleaned from the tremendous work they put into each section. We are truly blessed to have this level of talent in our city.

Maureen Berry's lighting designs are assuredly different for each segment, creating a mood that the dancers enhance with their performances. Jennifer "JC" Krajicek and Felia Davenport's costume designs also play a contributing part in the way each of these performances was delineated. Davenport's work on DIRT was especially well done, and lent the piece a sense of history that was especially eye-catching.

MADCO's production of FREEDOM was inspiring and captivating in so many ways. FREEDOM has so many meanings, one of which was the latitude given to each choreographer in creating his/her segment. But, it was also a reflection of what freedom represents to individuals. This was an undeniably powerful presentation, and one that will surely linger in the memory.

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From This Author - Chris Gibson