The weekend debut of Mass Motion Dance Company provided an excellent showcase not only for the choreography of its artistic directors, Katherine Hooper and Irada Djelassi, but for Collage Dance Ensemble, one of the area's leading folk dance troupes. It was a clever marketing stroke to invite the veteran company to share MMDC's first concert, both in terms of attracting a wider audience and in serving its mission for community outreach.
The pitfall, however, was that the internationally acclaimed Collage is a hard act to follow. Under the visionary leadership of Ahmet Luleci, the company's choreography infuses traditional movement with contemporary flair, and the first-rate dancers perform with vibrant energy, impressive precision, and heart. In the rousing "Eastern Tides," fusing dances from Spain, Hungary and Turkey, the dancers' terrific technical facility shone not only in the crisp footwork of high kicks and swivels, but also in seamless glides, gentle hop turns, and deep bends, arms stretching upward to the sky. Luleci gives the moving "Balkan Blues" a theatrical context, with dancers gathering as a community for a wake. He fluidly melds dance styles from different traditions while evoking a sense of ritual mourning and celebration. In a nice connection between the two companies, Hooper provided a vivid solo turn as the resurrected spirit, her brilliant spins and fluid undulations an effective contrast to the rhythmic urgency of the Collage dancers.
In comparison, the dancing and choreography of the fledgling MMDC paled a bit. Though there is some impressive individual talent and all the dancers displayed solid ability and enthusiasm, the ranks of the company are filled with students and recent graduates, which doesn't make for a particularly cohesive corps in the larger works, such as Hooper's high-energy octet "Amygdala" and Irada Djelassi's jazzy sextet "Orcheisthai." In addition, there was an annoying tendency to fade musical selections abruptly once the choreography ran its course, giving some of the works an underdeveloped, unfinished quality.
However, several of the dances had terrific promise. Hooper's "Passing Known" was especially striking. Irada Djelassi and Geniene Maybruch began in independent corridors of light with simple walks that progressed to bold, sweeping gestures interrupted by moments of stillness. Light also transformed her engaging "De Tatch," as Kristen Duffy, Melissa Ham-Ellis, and Christina Straight created layers of taut, sharply etched phrases within "boxes" of light. Shelbia Djelassi gave a committed, muscular performance of Hooper's "Breathe," combining loose-limbed swagger with jackknife leaps and expansive turns.
By Mass Motion Dance Company and Collage Dance Ensemble
At: Tsai Performance Center, Friday night