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Milwaukee’s Summer of Dance

Danceworks DanceLAB gives hope to the community

Jul. 26, 2016
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Photo by Jenna Marti

This summer’s Danceworks DanceLAB has four parts. “Get It Out There,” an eclectic concert of premieres by new and established Milwaukee choreographers, was in June. Three August concerts are more focused: “Ignite: A Hip Hop Dance Experience” (Aug. 6-7); “Danceworks on Tap: DiverCity” (Aug. 12-13); and “DanceLAB Teen” (Aug. 20). Danceworks Performance Company professionals serve as artistic directors: Kim Johnson for “Ignite,” Amy Brinkman Sustache for “DOT” and Gina Laurenzi for “Teen.” We talked about the shows and why DanceLAB matters.

Why It Matters

“DanceLAB provides artists with opportunities to produce one piece of work without all the problems, financial and otherwise, of producing an evening-length concert,” Johnson said. “It embraces different genres than just ballet and modern dance, which are what you usually think of when you think of a dance performance. We provide rehearsal space and offer mentorship when it’s wanted. Performers get free classes in exchange for their performances. We can’t pay them but we can provide training to help them grow in ways they maybe couldn’t without a scholarship.”

“I think for many people dance gives hope,” said Brinkman Sustache. “Dance is reality, it comes from real life experiences and it reflects life. It encourages community and keeps communities together. Last week, one of my students said that if wasn’t for tap class she wouldn’t have left the house. She struggles with depression and anxiety but after class, she said, her whole day goes much better.” 

“I don’t care if it’s tap, ballet or belly dancing–it’s movement,” Johnson said. “When you move your body, you connect to it. You can take control of yourself, of your own health and happiness. You keep yourself in reality with other people. You can help make other people happy.”

“It’s on everyone’s mind: what can I do to make a difference?” Brinkman Sustache said. “What we’re doing doesn’t need to reach around the world. We have to think about our own community. Bad things happen here, too. Our Danceworks community is very big with all the programs we do with seniors and school age children in MPS and beyond. We step into those situations every day and hear terrible stories about things that happened to family members, for example.”

A lab is where experiments happen, understanding deepens and next steps become evident.

Ignite: A Hip Hop Dance Experience

Johnson organized the first “Ignite” concert in 2013 because she values hip-hop dance as an art that, like other forms, should be experienced in a theatre setting. She delights in the unusually large number of over-50 audience members who come to partake in the sheer exuberance of the style. As Brinkman Sustache says, “You can’t sit in our small theatre without feeling that energy. You’re part of it.”

Most of this year’s premieres are by returning artists including Richard Brasfield’s foundational ReVamped Dance Company, PoisonD, Joshua Vang, Kyra Boprie (aka Kyra Renee) and Ko-Thi’s Demar Walker. Former Boombox Baby Gabi Sustache brings a theatrical group piece set to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” Terrence Morris Jr. and Kodi Schopper, outstanding dancers with ReVamped and PoisonD, will perform their own duet. Cedric Gardner is back with the best dancers from his Davis Boys & Girls Club program. The newcomers this year are Destiny Manuel and the older students from her local studio. The SueMo Dance Company presented its young companies last year. Now they’ll bring the main company with work that’s likely to confound whatever boundaries remain between hip-hop and contemporary dance.


Like hip-hop, tap once fought its way from street dance to valid artistic expression. “It’s all about the rhythm,” Brinkman Sustache says. “Tap teaches you to listen more than watch.”

“DiverCity” is about the diverse community we have, not only in town but within Danceworks,” she continues. DOT regulars will be joined by five dancers from the Danceworks’ 50+ class and five guest performers. 88Nine Radio Milwaukee has provided excerpts from its Neighborhood Stories series. Projected images of Milwaukee neighborhoods will accompany live narrations and tap danced responses. One dance, titled “Common Ground,” includes flamenco, Irish, clog dancing and tap. “Hopefully,” says Brinkman Sustache, “people will learn more about their community.” 


Members of Danceworks Youth Performance Company, together since last September, are creating a seamless concert, Laurenzi explained, that says “this is who I am at this time in my life, this is where I’ve come from, this is what I’m thinking about, this is how I feel about what’s happening in the world and my place in it and this is what I’m bringing to the world as I grow. It’s experimental. It feels contemporary. There’s hip-hop, a little tap, some jazz. The group is made of dancers with different backgrounds who have different styles. I tried to welcome all their choices. They’re allowed to bring their passion into it.”

All performances are at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. Matinee and evening curtain times vary. Call 414-277-8480 x 6025 or visit danceworksmke.org.


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