Autumn Heart, the late fall concert by Kanopy Dance Company at Overture's Promenade Hall last weekend, was predictably inconsistent. Three standouts rescued the eight-piece program from the dustbin of unmemorable Madison dance performances.
Kanopy co-director Lisa Thurrell's "Yggdrasil" (2006), a perfect little holiday piece we've seen several times, features frequent Kanopy collaborator and consummate performer Kiro Kopulos as a benevolent tree of life. In classic folk fable fashion he's awakened from a winter nap by white-robed maidens who frolic around his trunk, playing poinsettia garland games. I'm always pleased to see this dance, though both Thurrell and co-director Robert Cleary have a Midas touch with Romantic material. New works in this vein would be welcome.
Guest Georgia Corner's "Anti-Panurge," choreographed in the mode of her mentor, the late Erick Hawkins, was brainy -- an abstract, organic dance based on Rabelais' tale about sheep jumping ship. Six dancers in street clothes repeated patterns in unison. Individuals added alterations then picked up by the herd.
Cleary's testosterone opera "Fear is the Enemy" put a new pearl on his string of politically relevant works. The piece still looked unfinished, but the choreography was interesting, the concept hot. Tom Waits' song-poem "What's He Hiding in There" and the Kronos Quartet's chilling "Sing Sing: J. Edgar Hoover" provided paranoid lyrics. Seven men, wearing crotch harnesses that facilitated lifts and centrifugal force, hoisted themselves into Christlike partnered poses, swung each other around under prison-bar spots, and swept frontally across the stage in big brave combinations -- gallop in second position demi-plié with raised fists, pas-de-chat, run around, pique turn, stop! "Fear silences the voice of protest," the last lyrics proclaimed. Gunfire sounded. The stage went black.
SMARTDANCE director Maureen Janson's piece, "Afterthoughts," a modern-dance grand pas de deux for ballet-trained Kanopy principals Juan Carlos Diaz and Kerry Parker, was simply pleasing, and competently performed.
Minneapolis-based Jim Lieberthal and two of his Footholds dancers brought their 2009 piece "The Bottom Fell Out...and then..." Following the tranquil "Yggdrasil," Lieberthal's trio was relentlessly angular and percussive. Under harsh lights, to electronic tracks, a man and a woman in maroon and brown street clothes locked muscles in a karate-like power struggle. The tension was thick, but Lieberthal's contortions, and his white, short-legged unitard, were ambiguous and distracting.
"INwards," a solo Lieberthal choreographed on Kanopy principal Kerry Parker, was bland. Parker's own piece, "The Dialogue," a premiere, wasn't much spicier. I liked the medieval Spanish / Italian score and the dancers' velvety dark tunics. But the choreography, inspired, according to the program notes, by St. Catherine of Sienna and featuring Parker's spidery trademark style, barely conjured the tortured mystic.
Parker's works aren't always weak, though I've learned not to expect much from Kanopy principal Meg Johnson. In her premiere, "Obverse, Veiled Mirrors," nine women, including Johnson, in black dresses and fishnet tights, assumed awkward postures or scuttled, hunched over, across the stage, patting the inexplicable little lace schmatas they wore bobby-pinned over one eye. Billed as "a study on persona" involving "toxic glamor," this dance didn't come close.