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'LIVING IT UP (and dOWN)' in New York and Milwaukee

Catey Ott Dance Collective comes home

Mar. 19, 2014
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“The Incomparable Hildegarde,” aka Hildegarde Loretta Sell, of Adele, Wis., graduated from Marquette to become a singing star on the international supper club circuit in the mid-twentieth century. Gloved, gowned, glamorous and funny, she’s associated with such standards as “The Last Time I Saw Paris” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Never married, she died in 2005 in Manhattan at age 99, a darling of presidents and kings.

It’s a lesser known fact that she was cousin to Milwaukee choreographer Catey Ott Thompson’s grandmother. Trained in ballet from childhood, Ott Thompson abandoned a scholarship at Marquette for UW-Milwaukee’s superior dance program, then left Milwaukee for the international dance world of Manhattan where her Catey Ott Dance Collective performed for 17 years. There, she married, had a son and read her famous relative’s book Over 50...So What!, a combination autobiography and self-help guide to graceful aging.

“We read biographies to see what hits home,” Ott Thompson said over coffee at Brewed Café on Brady. “I was turning 40, looking at parts of myself, especially the mother versus the professional artist. With the energy I have on hand at the moment, do I have another child? Or is the energy left in me better spent on a professional career? There comes a time as a dancer when you start slowing down. How do we move forward?”

She decided to come home. Last year, she moved her family here. She reformed her company here. She’s teaching dance at Marquette University and the Milwaukee Ballet Academy. She’s worked all year on an evening-length dance about the hard questions that remain.

LIVING IT UP (and dOWN) is the title. The music is 13 recordings by Hildegarde, a virtual supper club concert. Excerpts from Hildegarde’s book are performed live, rendered as dialogue by Ott Thompson and the distinguished Milwaukee performance artist Kim Miller, a collaborator. They’ll dance as totems for what Hildegarde called her “Upstairs Me” and “Downstairs Me,” the reflective woman and the showbiz-savvy singer. Designer/sculptor C. Kai Marquardt built a full-length mirror and a chaise lounge for this section that look simultaneously old and new, Ott Thompson said, like the lives subtly contrasted in this largely abstract work. New CODC members Danielle Allen and Elizabeth O’Keefe will perform, as will five of Marquette’s Pure Dance company.

Performances are March 29, at 7:30 p.m., and March 30, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. For tickets, call 414.277.8480 (6025) or visit danceworksmke.org.


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