The Dynamic Men of Dance program this past weekend marked the ensemble's debut as a professional company, but already it's looking like a potent addition to Pittsburgh's dance scene.
That shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that artistic director Greer Reed-Jones doubles as artistic director of Pittsburgh's most venerable modern-dance outfit, Dance Alloy Theater. Moreover, some form of the AWC Ensemble has been performing for two years now, honing its chops and making an impression on local stages.
Still, it had to set some in the August Wilson Center audience on their heels to see a program this ambitious and polished from a company of dancers this young: At least three of the nine dancers are still in college, the rest in their early 20s.
While it didn't hurt to have strong material to work with, the program of four short works by emerging New York-based choreographers -- all world premieres -- was a challenge the troupe was up to.
For instance, a group of five dancers seemed to handle easily the athleticism of "Pulse," from Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member Antonio Brown. Notable were Annalee Traylor and James A. Washington as the work's central couple, tasked with a series of sensual and combative sequences. Meanwhile, as she would throughout the program, Angela Dice stood out for her remarkably fluid movement.
Darrell Grand Moultrie's "Body and Soul," set to a jazz tune sung by Ruth Brown, was a lovely solo, danced by Kendra Dennard, a sort of extended swoon punctuated by staggers, stumbles and tremors.
Pittsburgh-born Kyle Abraham contributed "Function," a complex and vibrant work for eight dancers set to an electronic score. The piece explored group social dynamics with wit and passion. Abraham performs and choregraphs frequently in his hometown, and is always a welcome presence.
The show ended with Moultrie's "Regality," an exciting work for eight dancers set to three percussive acoustic-guitar numbers by Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Thus the AWC Dance Ensemble continues making its mark in Pittsburgh and, says Reed-Jones, beyond. In a talkback following the Sun., Jan. 23, matinee performance, she said that this year the Ensemble will play New York's popular SummerStage outdoor performance series.