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Momentum: One weekend down, one to go

Vanessa Voskuil opened this year’s “Momentum: New Dance Works” series last weekend with a meditative, evocative piece for 80 performers, titled “en masse.” That’s right, that many, all moving on the Southern stage; and 99.9 percent of them were not dancers.

As the performers, in all manner of dress (from business suits to summer dresses to cargos, T’s and tattoos), swirled around on stage, numerous metaphors came to mind: a large, often amorphous organism; a well-disciplined regiment; an unruly mob; humanity at its worst (as individuals quickly turned on each) and its best (a lovely section in which specific performers are lifted out of and absorbed back into the crowd). In fact, before the piece started, I tried to discern which persons walking down the aisles were performers; the performers’ level of intent gave them away.

Voskuil clearly has a way with such a large group. Rather than creating Busby Berkeley-style choreography, she generated a sensory experience in which each individual or mass movement washes over or through the audience. The piece ended joyously, with all the performers chatting as if at a party and working cooperatively as they dismantled the lights. There wasn’t anything innately innovative, provocative or genre-shattering about the work, but “en masse” left one with faith in one’s own and other’s humanity — and a desire to join in Voskuil’s vision on stage.

The other premiere on the program, “The Apple Tree,” by Sachiko Nishiuchi, included what must be the first flamenco duet between a man and his iPhone. It was a frenetic section, both visually — as John Koch’s video design rapidly juxtaposed text messages, apps menus, contact lists and fingers darting along screens — and choreographically, as Edwin Suarez’s executed rapid-fire footwork and spin-on-a-dime turns.

The section was also a postmodern slice of life that sat uncomfortably next to Nishiuchi’s traditional young woman, who pines for her absent beloved next to her apple tree (Laura Horn). Her lovely, articulate dancing flowed between passionate and romantic, but she represented lovelorn girls of a bygone era. You know, the ones who, when defeated in love, simply die.

Coming up
On the Momentum docket this weekend: Sally Rousse’s “Paramount to My Footage.” The classical ballerina (and co-founder of James Sewell Ballet) is both an accomplished aerialist and dabbler in the nonvirtuosic, non-narrative world of post-modernism. This work draws from “a wide palette of movement and an appetite for extreme theatrical moods,” the press material states. Hmmm.

Megan Mayer’s “I Could Not Stand Close Enough to You” is also on the program. A frequent performer with the experimental or postmodern dance makers in town, Mayer’s work reportedly combines a Smothers Brothers-style humor and 1960s songs, childhood fantasies and “the self-conscious trappings of adulthood,” as the press material states. Think retro.

“Momentum: New Dance Works. 7:30 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave., Minneapolis; Tickets $16-$20. 612-340-1725.

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