Year after year, the Point Park Conservatory Dance Company's performance at Byham Theater has become a rite of passage for students, a bridge between the halls of academia and the dancehalls of the professional world they hope to inhabit one day.
Last weekend, dozens of student dancers crossed that bridge with a diverse offering of works by some of dance's top choreographers from the past 100-plus years.
On Friday, opening night, a student-heavy audience was treated to a menu of ballet, contemporary and street dance. The program opened with "A Choreographic Offering" by the late Jose Limon, first performed by the Jose Limon Dance Company in 1964 at the American Dance Festival.
It got off to a cautious start with a men's trio reigning in some slight timing issues (a few first night jitters, perhaps?), but it rebounded with a solid series of pirouettes executed in unison. Ensemble sections breezily moved about the floor, bringing with them bursts of soft colors via women's capped sleeve dresses and men's shirts and pants.
Christian Warner and Vanessa Guinto's duet combined sharp powerful movement with control, illustrating the fullness of the Bach score. Softness and elegance shined through Juliana Javier's solo.
Next, Charlotte Ahlstrom and Oscar Carrillo breathed beauty into Ben Stevenson's 1984 pas de deux, "End of Time." Their partnership was exquisite and effortless. Lifts, twists, drags and weight shifts danced en pointe were executed with ease. The shadowy lighting added to the sensuality and drama of this choreographic tale of the last two people on Earth.
This year's Hubbard Street Dance Chicago offering, a regular Point Park source for repertoire, was Alejandro Cerrudo's "Lickety-Split" (2005). In it, six socked-feet dancers strutted and slid across the stage in contemporary fashion.
Technically, it was swift, sharp and sleek. But perhaps more impressive was the dancers' mature handling of it. Exaggerated hip shakes and flirtatious partnering, which had the potential to come off as silly, stayed smart and sexy. At other times, movement swelled with urgency and restlessness -- but always still in control. In all, it sucked audience members into an experience that, although it involved no dialogue or narrative, could be felt and understood in the gut.
The final pieces were bold and different for Point Park, but good choices: "A Movement" and "Front Street Walk" by Raphael Xavier, credited for reviving "breaking" in Philadelphia in the 1990s.
Jacquelyn Buckmaster-Wright flavored her lyrical-meets-hip hop solo with grace and grit as she tackled its break dance-inspired floor spins. It became the appetizer for the street dancing that followed in "Front Street Walk."
The cast swaggered about the stage to the all-too familiar repetitive strains of Downtown crosswalk "beeps" and signals ("walk sign is on to cross Forbes" and "walk sign is on to cross Stanwix"). It started out very pedestrian, with dancers strolling to the beeps, and the brick wall of the stage exposed to add to the urban ambiance. Eventually, the street sounds became the soundtrack, which transitioned into music from The Who. Dancers let its groove move them and should continue to dig deeper into where this style of dance could take their bodies and movement vocabulary.
Call it a commentary on the repetitive grind of daily life, or a snapshot of city living and street style from the '80s and '90s. In either case, it was an engaging and fun conclusion to the night that left audiences smiling and clapping to the beat.
Similar to previous years, Point Park's dance department excelled at compiling a strong program varied in almost every way, including style, music, year created and number of dancers featured. It showed off the depth of the department and the skills of the industry's up-and-coming dancers.
If this program is any evidence, the future of professional dance should be in good hands.
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.