Since its inception, Point Park University’s Conservatory of Dance Company has prided itself on a diversity that was mostly geared toward commercial work or easy-on-the-eyes physicality for its graduates.
At its annual program at the Byham Theater this past week, however, CDC served notice that it wants to be taken seriously, offering a program that had substantial dance value throughout.
While CDC has always had an eye out for “name” choreographers such as George Balanchine, there was a perceptible shift in programming.
There were two heavyweights this time, Mark Morris’ “Grand Duo” and Lar Lubovitch’s “The Legend of Ten.” Both were masterpieces. Both were highly musical. Both artists’ works were appearing for the first time at PPU. Both had been presented by the Pittsburgh Dance Council with the original companies.
“Grand Duo” closed PDC’s program in 1998, filling the Benedum Center’s vast stage. This time it was placed second, still astonishing for its complexity and drive, almost tribal in nature and fierce as all get-out. Beginning with a single finger poking into the light, it proceeded through the relentless ethnic patterns and the rhythmic maze of Lou Harrison’s still jarring score, played magnificently by violinist Yegor Shevtsov and pianist Georgy Valtchev. Although it took the CDC dancers a couple of movements to find their weight on Friday night, they gobbled up the choreography with a real drive, capped with a stunning climax at the end.
“The Legend of Ten” (2012), on the other hand, was sleek, yet powerful, With the dancers clad in unisex black leotards, vests and boots, they evoked a feeling of Robin Hood’s ribald camaraderie in the circular patterns, with sharp gestures symbolizing “to the fight!” and combined with an unorthodox Calvin Klein sophistication. Both turbulent and elegant, the student cast, wonderfully led by Hailey Turek and Alex Hathaway, romped through the Brahms score like their own band of romantic dance outlaws.
Those works were balanced by a pair of talented young choreographers, both apparently darlings of the New York dance scene and deservedly so. The program opened with Emery LeCrone’s “Divergence.” Minimally dressed in shades of black and gray, the cast seemed a bit tentative. But cast members displayed open extensions, great line and explosive jumps in Ms. LeCrone’s choreography, featuring more shades -- from William Forsythe and Crystal Pite in its smart, clean phrasing. Ms. LeCrone demonstrated where ballet is headed.
It has been a while since CDC was able to garner a commission for its Byham program. But Bennyroyce Royon created a conceptually strong “Body Electric,” based on the Walt Whitman poem. With an Indian musical aura swirling around them, the performers used text from the poem, although the words didn’t project. But the second section had some airy, ricocheting ways of accumulating movement and an ending on the diagonal that read like a shock wave, one of those ultra-memorable moments that dance alone can provide.