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May 6–16, 2010
Reviewed by Camille LeFevre
Marciano Silva Dos Santos in the opening section of Sense(ability). Photo by Jim Smith, Courtesy Southern Theater.
Audience engagement has been a guiding principle of TU Dance since Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands, former Ailey dancers, founded the company in 2004. Until now, the group has touched its audiences largely through Sands’ singular choreography of graciousness. Dancers of diverse races and body types have embodied his portraits of the human condition with their powerful technique and inviting presence.
Sands’ first evening-length work, Sense(ability), retains the grace and vitality of his earlier pieces. But it’s also overlaid with attempts to involve the audience that are by turns assaulting, cute, and incomplete. The result verges on gimmickry.
Created to engage the five senses in a performance focusing on the natural elements, the work opens with “Ether/Sound,” a mysterious section infused with classical beauty. The entire scene feels elevated, with its many arabesques, leaps, and lifts. Against the backdrop of Minneapolis composer Chris Thomson’s original electronic score (in this section a sonorous soundscape with an undercurrent of clacking noises), Marciano Silva Dos Santos whirls through space with desperate agility and agitated grace. He animates statuesque poses with a ripple of muscle, a slow turn, and lifted walks. Berit Ahlgren struggles, then goes slack in Sands’ arms, before he slides her across the floor and suspends her overhead.
But how, exactly, is Sands commenting on sound in “Ether/Sound”? Are we to interpret the figure encased in a white shroud, cocoon-like, on the floor as a message of silence in the midst of sonic sensation? Sound actually takes on more resonance in the second section, “Fire/Sight,” as the music becomes brighter—even sparkly—above a deep beat.
Here, dancers are immersed in rhythmic, full-throttle torso undulations, swaying hips, shoulder shrugs, and playful hops that flicker intensely under a strobe light. From time to time, a bright beam blasts at the audience, blinding us temporarily before the strobe starts again, the dancers’ afterimage lingering on our retinas.
With “Air/Touch,” the headache-inducing attack on our senses continues with fans blowing air on the audience. Pierce-Sands and Dos Santos perform a melodic, flowing duet and like adoring parents watch Katelyn Skelley emerge from her cocoon. The swish and drape of Pierce-Sands’ skirts evoke the sensation of a gentle touch.
“Water/Taste” is a cloying, pre-intermission vignette in which the repeated sound of water pouring into a glass is meant to drive us from the theater to get a drink or use the restroom.
The evening concluded with “Earth/Smell.” To Asian-inflected music driven by chest-thumping bass, the dancers forge through a grounded choreography of bent knees, contracted torsos, hunched jumps, pulsing fists, and stamping feet, as arms gather and slap the space. Performed largely in unison, the closing emanates vigor but no discernible smell—not even from the sweat pouring off the dancers’ bodies. With TU Dance, gimmicks really are unnecessary; the music and the movement can stand alone.