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A Lively ‘Requiem’ for Ed Burgess

Danceworks Performance Company’s 'Breathe'

Mar. 9, 2015
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Photo by Paul Ruffolo

There was barely room onstage at Next Act Theatre last weekend for the 15 powerhouse dancers who performed the Milwaukee premiere of Requiem, Janet Lilly’s lively tribute to Ed Burgess, the dancer, choreographer and chair of UWM’s Dance Department who died in his sleep in 2011 to the shock and dismay of the performing arts community. The dancers – DPC’s company joined by six highly individual artists who seldom perform together but were close to Burgess – created the dance from instructions by Lilly who now heads the dance program at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. In groups and solos, they brought to life Burgess’ particular exuberance and devotion to dance, until the final moment when that energy suddenly vanished, leaving the cast and audience bereft and directionless.

"Requiem" was the finale of Breathe, an unusually somber Danceworks Performance Company concert that also featured the revival of Kim Johnson’s 2012 solo, Without Word or Sound, a portrait of a woman felled by grief. The movements a body makes when under extreme emotional duress provide the dance vocabulary but the piece is not abstract; Johnson credibly connects the shaking, sinking and vocalized cries to her character’s inner life. The score by Milwaukee jazz musician Neil Davis gives quiet support.

Johnson’s dance was followed by Kym McDaniel’s short film Rituals in which Johnson is the sole actor. That programming sequence turned the film—a cinematic dance of images associated with spring—into an unnecessary epilogue to the live performance and made it hard to consider on its own merits as a testament to recovery.

“Breathe” opened with Dani Kuepper’s new work for the DPC company, Slowly and Always. Set to stirring a capella choral music, Kuepper sweetly demonstrated the support network among her co-workers by having them carry one another. Gina Laurenzi’s Winter Becomes You, an intricate two-character portrait of a love affair turned wintry, followed. It would be haunting in any gender combination but the choice to have it danced by two men mattered. It’s rare to see same sex love so humanized in dance.

I adored the part of Joelle Worm’s new "Pilgrimage" in which the dancers mirrored with uncanny accuracy the gaze and posture of Catholic saints, but got lost when the Muslim hajj became her reference in this outsider’s look at prayer. Cadance Collective’s "Tidal" is a formal music/dance experiment based on an analogy between breathing and the tide.

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