Judging from the past couple of years' offerings, a Chicago modern dance company is not something you can pass up without a second thought. USU gave Utah the excellent Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble last year and continued this season with the Joseph Holmes Dancers, clearly a fresh and exciting voice in modern dance.
This multiracial company has 11 virtuosos of great individuality. The dancers come in all sizes and builds, but they perform together with admirable unity of style and purpose. They appear to have a strong balletic background, and all are athletes who leap, climb, lift and balance securely.Randy Duncan won Chicago's Ruth Page award for outstanding choreographer in 1988 and 1990, and it's easy to see why. His choreography has grace, power, order, lucidity, rhythmic flow and impulse - pure dance that doesn't raise questions it doesn't address.
His "Delta" (1986) seemed to be set in a teeming, tidewater sort of place, blue-washed and inhabited by amphibious creatures who formed striking tableaus or eased into ritualistic, water-driven movement that owes something to the gymnastics of Pilobolus.
There were solos and a duo of original lifts and transitions by the sinuous and powerful Roger Turner and Patrick Mullaney. Andreas Vollenweider's synthetic score simulated swishing of water, fog horns, bells and whistles, then developed them into a synthesis with vocals, which heightened the mystery of this piece, poised somewhere between the primal and futuristic.
Duncan's "Turning Tides," dedicated to the memory of Joseph Holmes, started with "Adrift," a touching evocation of loneliness by Mullaney, set to a country-style ballad. The whole company concluded with "The Storm," whose galvanic music suggested a faith-charged spiritual, interpreted with thrusting energy, and the vitality of like-minded movers.
In "Women's Work," Duncan turned his attention to an entertaining piece for women only, in catchy calypso rhythm with glitzy Caribbean costumes and theatrical lighting by Catherine Young. It was swingy, bright and clever with lots of synchronized movement, and an occasional hint of voodoo ritual.
"Love Me Not" was a solo for Winifred Haun, whose superhuman strength and feral grace accomplished Duncan's intense foray into the Graham tradition of sudden fits and starts of movement, heavy floor work and launching herself from a chair - a moving demonstration of angst and frustration given full physical and emotional rein.
The company opened with "Medley," another tribute piece in celebration of the late Marvin Gaye, and set to his very danceable blues and rock music by choreographer Keith Lee. Its many sections introduced the dancers in all their variety, charged with their own inimitable electric spark.
Cynthia Bowen and Keith Elliott led off "Too Busy Thinking About You" with some fantastic fearless partnering. Turner made of "Trouble Man" a big, moody tour de force, then immediately swung into the lyrical "Distant Lover" with Ariane Dolan without missing an emotional cue. And the whole company brought down the house with "Keep on Dancin'," a jazz and rock jam session punctuated by exciting individual virtuosity.