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Dance review: UMD's 'Dance Works 2021' brings variety of dances to stage

The performances continue Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

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Matthew Wagner, “Dance Works 2021” artistic director and assistant professor of dance and musical theater, showcases a blend of faculty, student, and community works to an arts-starved audience coming off a year-and-a-half-long sabbatical.

The performance opened with a quintessential parody of a ballet class, choreographed by LilaAnn Coates White. This piece was presented in three parts scattered throughout the show. Standout Erin Clark had lovely technique. Clark consistently used good turnout (external rotation of the hips), stretched well through the legs, and demonstrated fluid motion.

"The Big Scare in the Big Easy," choreographed by Willa Gulstrand, another parody, was reminiscent of the 1970’s cartoon Scooby Doo. Lighting designer Braden Kowalski did an excellent job bringing bold vintage geometric shapes to the backdrop that framed the dancers well.

An interesting piece, "Hotel California," choreographed by Bettie Schultz, had some very nice choreographic elements. The corps began in two rows semi-silhouette by stage-left side lighting. With most dancers in black, the one woman in red stood out nicely by contrast. This piece had some lovely port de bras (carriage of the arms) while filling the space well. Although I can see why Schultz chose the acoustic guitar introduction version of the music, the live recording with audience noises was distracting to the piece itself.

The upbeat "Go Big or Go Home," choreographed by Jaclyn Nessett, was a lot of fun to watch. The dancers had good energy on stage, but at times seemed to be waiting for the music. Lighting designer Andrew Norfolk almost used his lighting as a percussive support which helped the stage come alive.


"Day by Day" was the strongest tap piece of the show, choreographed by Danielle Mattson and Matthew Wagner. Mattson, who performed "Day by Day" with clear strong sounds, kept excellent time with her quick riffs and pullbacks. "Exile" by Kylee Berude was by far the cleanest and best-executed choreographic work. The movement contained both axial and locomotor movement, good use of space and relationship of dancers, and even energy. Overall, an excellent piece.

The 218 Dance Project dancers stole the show. The pint-sized dancers executed a lyrical piece that blew my socks off. With the choreographic genius of Courtney LaPlante, the stretchy little dancers jumped, twisted, and turned with artistry beyond their years.

By and large, this was an enjoyable show that highlighted faculty, student, and guest artists' work. The costumes and lighting throughout helped to highlight the narrative and created mood. The show provided a nice variety of ballet, contemporary, lyrical, and tap. However, all speaking parts were very difficult to hear and an insert with the guest performers' and choreographers' names was missing.

If you go:

Where: Marshall Performing Arts Center UMD

When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets: or at the door $5 -$20

Kelly Sue Coyle reviews dance performances for the Duluth News Tribune.

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