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Crucible for Creativity: UO faculty dance concert shines

The University of Oregon Department of Dance presented its 48th annual Faculty Concert Feb. 16-18, to an enthusiastic audience.

Representing collaborations among UO dance and theatre faculty members and their students — in dance, lighting and costume design — the effort was a richly realized event, featuring only premieres, three with original scores.

The evening opened with Hannah Anderson’s Ecliptic.

Beginning in a tense unison, Anderson’s dancers unfurl, peeling from the center through sideways leaps, axial turns and earthy slides. They continually discover balance, only to lose grip of it again, creating a dialectical whorl of intention. One particularly strong moment — organic crosses from stage left to right and back again, set against Markus Johnson’s evocative music — show off Anderson’s knack for accented rhythm, dynamic relationships and explosive shape.

Brad Garner’s genesis, set to music by Caleb Burhans, walks a tightrope between free and bound flow. Garner explores a thematic motif throughout — digging one’s heel sharply while flexing arms backwards in a tight curve — as contrasted to the subtle, sinewy dappling of shared self-space. Through shifts in focus, Garner expertly divines changes in mood as he and dancer Shannon Mockli rise and fall and rise again.

Rosetta, by Darian Smith, has an alien look and feel to it — white unitards emblazoned with bold alphabet letters, the dancers wearing white grease paint — but underneath the façade there’s something tellingly human, almost fragile, at play. A moment pops out: One dancer, downstage, runs to the other side of the proscenium as dancers upstage do the opposite. It’s a simple idea, a counterbalance, but the effect is satisfyingly dizzying, like watching a pendular carnival ride.

Garner’s Admitting Light, about the work of physicist Nikola Tesla, ambitiously weaves together detailed, introspective dance, with animated projections by John Park and an original score by Jon Bellano and Jeremy Schropp. Lighting design by UO faculty member Janet Rose creates unity, as if we’re peering through a mechanical aperture into the mind of Tesla himself. At times joyful, other times deeply pensive, Garner’s work takes its breath through curving, taut shape. A powerful moment comes towards the end, as Garner braids together groups of dancers (and he has a big crew of them) through loose pathways from upstage to down. (Inspired by Tesla’s famous pigeons perhaps?) These dancers take flight.

Become, by Rita Honka, toys with angularity and changes in energy, from smooth and swingy to sharp, almost nervous. What begins as a solo morphs into a duet, and here Jessica Taylor glows. Though the UO dancers, as a whole, are strong and capable, Taylor’s technique, her expression, her powerfully integrated performance — is something to behold.

And Mockli’s Unearthed, set to an original score by Christian Cherry, cuts through levels as it heaves from a molten place. With blasts of intensity, Mockli’s work here is at once sad and playful, like a familiar nursery rhyme whispered in the shadows.