PDC pushes definition of ‘ordinary’

A-PDC-Review Colby Patterson
The Performing Dance Company performed at the Marriott Center for Dance last weekend. Photo by Chris Ayers.

The Performing Dance Company performed at the Marriott Center for Dance last weekend. Photo by Chris Ayers.

When Jackson Pollock fashioned the concept of splattering paint on canvas — a method easily recreated by toddlers — many critics mocked the technique, calling it odd. Like abstract expressionism, modern dance is dubbed strange and disturbing. In essence, it is dance’s version of contemporary art.

Making the stage its canvas, the U’s Department of Modern Dance’s Performing Dance Company opened its spring showcase on Feb. 28 at the Marriott Center for Dance.

At first glance, PDC’s spring sequence may appear off-putting. However, like Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” the choreographers and dancers of PDC work to make conventional portrayals of places, names and philosophies aesthetically pleasing.

The curtains of the performance open to “Montana, Winter 1997.” Garbed in white, five dancers fall into a winter blizzard. Traipsing back to memories of 1997, the piece recognizes music as a sixth sense.

In 1997, choreographer Stephen Koester spent time in a Montana cabin. There, he heard a Philip Glass piano solo for the first time. Now, when he listens to Glass, his thoughts wander to that cabin. To create a time travel effect, the dancers are spotlighted in warm colors and take a ghost-like presence, since ghosts are tied to the past.

Twirling back in time by way of musical trigger seems out of the ordinary. However, any music lover will argue this happens more often than not. By depicting an experience shared by all, Koester’s work has potential to create connections between performer and viewer. While the piece has its beautiful moments, it draws on and fails to recreate a cherished memory.

The Performing Dance Company performed at the Marriott Center for Dance last weekend. Photo by Chris Ayers.

The Performing Dance Company performed at the Marriott Center for Dance last weekend. Photo by Chris Ayers.

Like “Montana, Winter 1997,” “What’s in a Name” strives to make the normal abnormal. The performers paint their set with dance moves, words and an eclectic mix of music. With spastic body gestures and loud statements, the sequence nitpicks the meaning of the word ‘name.’

“What’s in a Name” also throws in audience participation. At this point, the viewer becomes an artist. This switch-up works well for the piece. Because modern art works to blur the lines of reality and art, “What’s in a Name,” is titled the show’s most contemporary piece.

Nonetheless, the Pollock “Number 1” of the show is “Village Square No. 4, Revived.” For this piece, four dancers take the persona and names of four Finnish citizens. Failing to authenticate folk dances from Finland, the performers reconstruct their own rendition of the Finnish dancing.

From the country’s mythology to its passion for heavy-metal music, the dancers humorously cover a wide breadth of Finnish history. Their comedic talent is at the forefront with air guitar strumming and a non-romantic version of the tango. Almost categorized a play, “Village Square No. 4, Revived” follows an intricate storyline, which separates it from abstract adaptations of modern dance.

By using bizarre twists and turns of the human figure, modern dance could be said to be ballet’s ugly stepsister. However, contemporary art’s intention is to highlight the uncomfortable and ugly. With trained dancers and storytelling devices, the PDC’s spring show creates a welcoming setting that pushes viewers to question the fine line between normal and interesting.

f.moody@chronicle.utah.edu