Odyssey Dance Theatre’s updated “Shut Up & Dance!” spring concert offers three alternating programs. I saw the opening night of “Dancescapes,” which include performances by SoulEscape, based out of Dallas, Texas. On alternating programs there are revivals of Odyssey’s “Sledgehammer” and “Romeo + Juliet.”
If “Dancescapes” is any indication, the recent changes at Odyssey are for the better.
Allen Cooper and Jeffrey Louizia are two standouts among an almost complete turnover of the company’s male dancers. Cooper’s performance looks as if the dancer is persuading the movement to tell us everything we want to know about the choreography, while Louizia’s amazingly wide range would make him hard to identify if not for his striking height and distinctive appearance.
There’s been less turnover among the female dancers, but since companies often get stuck on certain favorites, it was refreshing to see Elizabeth Martineau featured, along with new dancers Jill Johnson and Autumn Crocket. The company as a whole has a revitalized honesty in its performance style.
The evening opened with choreographer Mandy Moore’s “It Goes …,” which offers a fresh take on some feel-good music. Moore, known for her work on TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” re-envisions the silky, R&B music of Ruth Brown but doesn’t stray from its intentions.
Each section is original and sincere and reminds of the best of Twyla Tharp’s organic use of groups and technical expertise. The partnering is built on the relationships developing in the narrative, and not (like much of what we see today) manipulating each other’s bodies for whatever quirky thing comes out of it.
Behind “It Goes …” and much of the evening’s work is a wonderful use of rhythm — whether in the dancers’ bodies or in building the choreography. Dancers move from place to place through rhythmic passages, and it almost appears the floor is pulling them, rather than the other way around.
Artistic director Derryl Yeager’s duet for Eldon Johnson and Dayna O’Connell, “Solimbula,” teeters on the verge of acrobatics, but the virtuosity is impressive while simple and beautiful, and the Beethoven score helps define and contain the movement.
ODT brings back Dee Caspary’s “Monsieur Loyal,” and like the rest of the evening, bests its subject matter with a new spin, avoiding the pitfalls of potentially hackneyed material. This is one of the few dances where I actually care to follow the narrative. The wonderful Eldon Johnson, the company’s assistant artistic director and principal dancer, is a ringmaster who controls his world until he doesn’t. His fall from grace is fascinating and the theatrical elements successfully add to the mysterious story.
The second half of the program by Justin Giles’ company SoulEscape is an unusual combination of Southern sensibility, artistic insight and current movement styles, such as hip-hop. The piece was in seven sections; the ones that worked were stunning, and the ones that didn’t were OK too. Giles himself is a remarkable performer.
‘Shut Up & Dance!’
R Choreographic integrity and honest performances make changes at Odyssey Dance Theater worth seeing.
When • Reviewed Wednesday, Feb. 1; run continues through Saturday, Feb. 11.
“Dancescapes” featuring SoulEscape • Saturday, Feb. 4, 2 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb. 7, and Friday, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m.
“Sledgehammer” and three new works • Saturday, Feb. 4, and Wednesday, Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 11, 2 p.m.
“Romeo + Juliet” • Features “So You Think You Can Dance’s” Tadd Gadduang and Ryan Di Lello, on Friday, Feb. 3, Monday, Feb. 6, Thursday, Feb. 9, and Saturday, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20, $25, $30, $35, $40 (plus handling and facility fees); www.kingtix.com; student rush and multiple show discounts available at 801-581-7100.