Collage Dance Collective is a sharp ensemble that dance audiences deserve to see more of.
When I think of Memphis, I think Elvis and barbecue. Not ballet.
But I’m now certain that ballet is growing an audience in the Home of the Blues thanks to Collage Dance Collective. This ensemble of fine classical dancers who appeared at The Egg on Friday night offered an uneven program, mainly because the choreography ranged from powerful to mediocre. But none of the dancing from this octet came off as anything but strong, capable and beautiful.
The moment the dancers took the stage in “Ella Suite Ella,” it was clear the night was to showcase refined technique from committed artists. But it’s premiere of this ballet, created by Arturo Fernandez to celebrate the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth, was less than auspicious. Featuring just three songs, this suite felt undone.
The opening duet with fluid Kimberly Ho-Tsai and Daniel Cooke was liquid gold. It was followed up by a sharp, syncopated solo by ultra-focused and taut Bernard DuBois II. The choreographer brought them back for finishing trio that didn’t coalesce or say anything about the music or their relationship. It was disappointing.
Nicolo Fonte’s “Left Unsaid” was also dissatisfying, but less so. Set to a Bach on violin, the dance of with folding chairs did speak of relationships unfulfilled. And while the construction was sensible, the ballet did not emit the heat that one wants from a ballet of tangled alliances.
But throughout, the dancers lent integrity to everything they did. Even when technical problems, such as long, mysterious pauses, befell the program, or when they themselves were out of synch, the dancers shined with their purity of intention.
This served them well in two potent pieces -- “The Rate of Which I Am,” by Joshua Manculich, and “Wasteland” by Christopher Huggins.
“The Rate of Which I Am” was a disturbing piece in which the dancers, all people of color, were isolated and placed in the glare of a single spotlight. In the light, they ran, they tried to fly, they contorted and tore at their skin. It brought about thoughts of over-policing, profiling and imprisonment.
Even when they appeared under the glaring light together, they were quickly separated, showing the expelling of support for those who need it most.
A gentle duet with Daphne Lee and Rickey Flagg II gave some respite from the flight, but “The Rate of Which I Am” resonated long after the curtain came down.
Also compelling was “Wasteland,” the evening’s finale. This ensemble piece, to music by Jonsi & Alex and Savanj Rooms, felt like a spiritual awakening after nuclear destruction. The eight radiated a force that overrode the lifelessness around them. They were the world and it was a robust, redeeming one.
The evening was rounded out with “Sweet,” a work by Shawn Hounsell with music by Njo Kong Kie. This glorious series of duets with Flagg, Lee, Dubois and Luisa Cardoso was a delight.
So too was the company. I hope we seen more of them soon.