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Sit Down and Dance

Dance Preview

Nov. 6, 2008
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Dancing with chairs is nothing new. Before Flashdance, before Fred Astaire, possibly even before people thought to sit in them, dancers were sharing the stage with chairs. It might be the lowly chair's ability to double as an even lowlier stool, or it might be the contrast between the dynamic dancer and the static object. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. There's a danger in working with chairs: Because it's been done so much, it risks becoming a clich. That danger, though, means that when done well, the payoff is even greater. In the hands of an inventive, solid company like Danceworks, the audience is almost certain to get that payoff.

Dancework's first show of the 2008-2009 season is every bit in keeping with its reputation as an edgy, interdisciplinary company that is at once serious and fun. Have a Seat, headed by guest Artistic Director Janet Lilly, includes new works in addition to a piece called "The Weight of Skin," which is set to the words of Milwaukee Poet Laureate Susan Firer. All of the dances involve chairs and reflect the breadth of Danceworks' programs.

"Amongst choreographers there are decidedly two camps," Lilly says. "Those who love dances that use chairs and those that don't. The choreographers and dancers of the Have a Seat performance series fall into the first camp; we find chairs to be both ordinary and extraordinary symbols of everyday life when placed onstage. Since dancing is our life, we ask, 'Why not?'"

As a symbol of everyday life, the chair is, indeed, extraordinary. In its different forms, it is where we work, eat, relax, bare our souls. Our chairs get better and larger, maybe even become thrones, as we gain status; a chair's design itself is a symbol. It is in the artist's knowledge of this that a chair becomes not simply a prop for a dancer, but a unique device to tell a story.

Lilly, professor and chair of the Department of Dance at UW-Milwaukee, also premieres "Immediate Seating," which she calls "an episodic romp through memory and expectations." Lilly, who was a principal dancer with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in New York before joining UWM in 1995, is no stranger to Danceworks. It's a strong pairing; both Lilly and Danceworks use sly humor and a daring, broad use of other arts to create powerful, meaningful programs. It's no surprise, then, that this is the camp that embraces the use of chairs. As thoughtful and innovative artists, the audience has to ask: "Why not?"

Have a Seat runs Friday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 9, at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St.


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