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Dance Review:

ZEPHYR DANCE at The Dance Center of Columbia College

BY LUCIA MAURO

For its spring concert at The Dance Center of Columbia College, June 7-9, Zephyr Dance opened with artistic director Michelle Kranicke’s 1999 "Do Us Part," a tragically ethereal exploration of madness and loss. This is the sort of fully developed, metaphorically entwined and challenging movement piece the all-female contemporary dance troupe should use as a blueprint for future works. That doesn’t mean they should emulate its structure exactly – just follow its unified themes and liquid transitions.

The other two dances on the program – Emily Stein’s "Niagara Mind" and Kranicke’s "Wanderthrough" (both heavily revised since their premiere at the NEXT Dance Festival) – evoked a weighty sameness, from costumes and lighting to a deliberate style of movement. In fact, while they resembled "Do Us Part," they wandered off into unfocused psychological territory and were ultimately indistinguishable from each other,

With "Do Us Part," Kranicke designs a revelatory found-sound landscape of creaking doors, animal shrieks, baby cries and circus music (possible "voices" in her characters’ heads). She and her fellow five dancers seem to sleepwalk, float and virtually turn their psychological torment inside out while costumed in Kathy Z. Kaporis’ diaphanous straitjackets. From slow elevations on half-point to fetal inversions, the choreography suggests both a mesmerizing transcendence and descent into mental desperation.

There’s something morose and ethereal about a work that seems to walk through time and space – accentuated by Richard Norwood’s slicing-shadowed lighting. Kranicke, Stein, Laura Chiaramonte, Heather Kroski, Karen Moses and Nicole Pinchott move as one before separating into eclectic aspects of the same personality.

Most striking is a long white sheet the artists stretch across the stage on a diagonal. Behind this flexible scrim, they appear to writhe and melt – looking like ghosts on their way to another sphere of the afterlife. At one point, the dancers sing out of tune and make child-like noises, giving this work a cyclical feel with all the diverse elements coming full circle.

"Do Us Part" runs for 30 minutes, and the experience is deeply rewarding. But "Niagara Mind" and "Wanderthrough" last just as long and convey a similar mood. They also feature the same six dancers. The program would have been so much more effective and memorable had Kranicke varied the length, number of dancers and emotional timbre of the pieces.

"Niagara Mind," Stein’s examination of nature’s grandeur, still needs to be better defined beyond rippling movement effects and cleansing motifs. It’s not very clear what Kranicke is trying to achieve in "Wanderthrough," a patchwork of sexy and provocative images that are totally disconnected. Movement ranges from fretful running and robotic formations to creepy repetitions and off-kilter tableaux reminiscent of "A Chorus Line." Compositionally, it’s quite stunning -- including the mist-and-rain finale. But the movement itself comes across as a series of gratuitous exercises in symbolic obscurity.

Zephyr Dance, which consists of strong and versatile artists, needs to expand its choreographic dimensions in order to touch audiences on many levels.•

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