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A Night of Pop Dance 'Transcendence' with SueMo

Jan. 16, 2017
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Contemporary dance means one thing to the ballet world, another to those trained in the techniques of the modern masters and still another in the field of commercial dance. Each has its own philosophy, goals and standards. Commercial dance—let’s call it pop dance—employs movements from the other styles as well as from theater and street dances. As anyone who’s seen television dance competitions knows, it makes great demands on dancers. They have to be ready for anything and maybe that’s the message.

SueMo: A Dance Experience, the stylistically open-minded name of the young company of Melissa Sue Anderson and Morgan “Mo” Williams, takes pop dance seriously. Transcendence is the title of their hour-long concert at Danceworks Studio last weekend. Not yet 3 years old, the company is a mix of professional dancer-choreographer-teachers, apprentices and dedicated students. Most teach or train at Studio One Dance Company in Wales, Wis. The two performances on Saturday were sold out. The cheering audience was young on average. The dancing was strong, the ensemble work amazing and the sincerity of it all affecting.

Williams’ “Luuk Out Gurl,” the only non-premiere, is wonderful. Thirteen teenaged girls, their individual identities concealed under identical gray hoodies that fall to their thighs, their legs and feet bare and their unison dancing uncanny, make a tight, cool gang in sinister blue light. In the end, though, they’re vulnerable children. When the team splits up and moves into darkness, one remains—a teen in a hoodie in maybe the wrong neighborhood. She starts to remove the hood. Blackout.

The rest of the program was new and will crystalize under further scrutiny and more performances. This includes Williams’ “Cleansed” (to Bon Iver’s “Wash”) in which the adult company dances hard and finishes stunned, as if emerging from a trance. I wanted to better know the interesting women in Anderson’s “Oracle,” a haunting duet for Cailey Bruno and Christa Smutek to music by Radiohead. They rescue one another, I think, and end up fellow travelers on an uncertain journey from loneliness. Emily Landry’s scary “In(Ex)hale” involved rescuing, too, of individuals by a community. Christa Smutek’s ambitious “From Eden to Elsewhere” offered beautiful images of a hyper-regulated society, order as paradise, and a depressed outsider and a bonding that strengthens her. The finale, a kaleidoscopic display of pop dance moves, symbolized freedom and possibility but who knows what’s ahead?

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