One misstep aside, Contemporary Choreographers is a strong program

Jenna Saccurato (center) and CDC dancers in Ronan Koresh's "Standing in Tears".
Jenna Saccurato (center) and CDC dancers in Ronan Koresh’s “Standing in Tears”. Photo by Jeff Swensen.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The annual production showcases works by some of today’s best choreographers and talented up-and-comers. This year’s, however, began with a disappointing performance of David Morse’s “BWV 1063.” Set to vibrant music by J.S. Bach, the neoclassical ballet for 19 female dancers on pointe featured pretty (if somewhat academic) choreography with dancers moving into and out of a variety of attractive formations. The most interesting came when rows of dancers broke from unison group choreography to deliver counterpoint movement phrases. Uneven lines and sloppy dancing, however, soured an otherwise promising ballet.

The dancing improved with the premiere of 2009 Point Park graduate Luke Murphy’s “This Room Was All Set For Us.” Inspired by Jean Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, and the idea of the locked room, Murphy’s modern dance work for six dancers set to familiar songs from the 1960s and ’70s, cast a surreal spell. Confined to a small floor pattern of squares, the dancers moved through a succession of highly physical dances suggesting themes of isolation, co-dependence, relationship anxiety and suicide. Amidst fine performances by the entire cast, dancer Alexandra Chain stood out for her emotional intensity along with Ashley Zimmerman, whose solo to The Doors’ “The End” was mesmerizing.

This Room Was All Set For Us part of Contemporary Choreographers
Sara Spizzachini (center) and CDC dancers in Luke Murphy’s “This Room Was All Set For Us”. Photo by Jeff Swensen.

Fueled by an intensely moving Arvo Part score, Troy Powell’s “Fallen Angels” produced a whirlwind of emotional dancing. Powell’s premiere work for 11 dancers was a riveting display of angelic imagery, falling bodies and emotional support. Most striking was when nine male dancers, each with a hand to his chest and gazing downward, slowly walked onstage, then launching into a fervent dance that carried them back and forth across the stage. The sequence ended with their collapse to the floor, and a heartfelt closing pas de deux by dancers Hailey Turek and Justus Whitfield.

The program concluded with a triumphant bang as Ronan Koresh’s tribalistic “Standing in Tears” (2005) poured forth his signature contemporary movement style infused with Israeli folk dance. Set to hard-driving Middle Eastern music, the large group piece led by a commanding Jenna Saccurato produced a dazzling display of aggressive, fist-pumping dancing that was brilliantly crafted and danced.

Conservatory Dance Company’s Contemporary Choreographers continues through Sun., Nov. 23. George Rowland White Performance Studio at Point Park University, 201 Wood St., Downtown. $18-20. 412-392-8000 or

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper  on November 19, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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