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Strong Performances by Young Artists at UWM’s Winterdances

Feb. 7, 2017
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In tune with the season, the UW-Milwaukee Dance Department’s Winterdances: Woven looked inward—its aim, the training of young artists. The atmosphere was established by the thoughtful preshow jazz of pianist Josh Robinson, bassist Mitch Shiner and percussionist Michael Ritter. This fine trio accompanied the opening dance, a full staging by department chair Darci Brown Wutz of “The Cell Block Tango” from the musical Chicago. Training for the commercial musical theater seemed the reason for including it. The dancing was strong, the singing passable, the commitment commendable, the piece what it is.

In contrast, I found Brown Wutz’s 1998 tap dance isolation en masse, revived for this program, brilliant. The tappers start in pitch darkness. You focus on rhythms and imagine steps. Suspense builds. Suddenly some dancers snap on handheld flashlights aimed at their white tap shoes. These quickly snap off as others snap on, and off and on, in various patterns, the impeccable tapping complex. Suddenly, one light is under a chin, a macabre Halloween face floats in the dark. More mask-like faces appear and vanish; the thundering feet and haunting faces make crazy audiovisual art. 

Dani Kuepper’s Regressing, Stagnating, Advancing, to music mostly by Meredith Monk, impressed me greatly. Monk is also a choreographer, a master of pedestrian movement, a champion of the beauty of all bodies and the drama of presence. She’d love this piece. Dancers Callie Gibbs, Kylee Karzen, Sydney Kidd, Nekea Leon and especially Kelsey Lee in a central role gave exemplary performances, watching, shaking, reaching, running, rolling, holding each other, extricating themselves—not pretty or clever but immediate and true. It’s something I haven’t seen before.

Simone Ferro’s Curb Service, please! is a response to Mathew Desmond’s book Evicted set against a loving, sad, haunted original score by Timothy Russell. You watched young dancers trying to understand and embody the tragedy of Milwaukeeans driven from foreclosed homes in recent years. Images of young women toppling backwards off staircases or sitting limply, immobilized by shock, will stay with me. This is training in the reasons for art making and, again, something new. Filmmaker Kym McDaniel provided footage of Milwaukee neighborhoods; midway, her projection surface was hauled off and her images lost sense.

Dan Schuchart’s Far and Near Are All Around to original music by Lorna Dune had a whole lot happening on a bare stage with nowhere to hide. That was the point, I think.

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