Milwaukee History in Motion
Fun facts accompany Danceworks on Tap’s ‘DiverCITY’
I didn’t realize that Milwaukee has the nation’s oldest curling club or that Solomon Juneau was Canadian. Such “Fun Facts” appeared on a center stage screen at Danceworks Studio on opening night while the full house awaited the arrival of DiverCITY, the 2016 DanceLAB concert by Danceworks on Tap.
The show began with a stretch of darkness to sharpen our hearing for the tapping to come. We listened to street sounds. Dancers announced their presence with taps like urgent drumbeats. The insistent rhythms grew in complexity as the company of eight women and 11 guest performers entered to create a street scene, dancing and traveling. Artistic Director Amy Brinkman-Sustache’s choreography allowed each dancer to register as individual. They formed a spirited community of mostly women—diverse in personality, physicality and age.
What a happy show it was! Nine optimistic dances gave evidence of the value of honoring history, working cooperatively and embracing difference. Amiable city historian John Gurda appeared on screen in video clips at three points, offering further fun facts about Riverwest, Walker’s Point and Bay View and musing on the ways a neighborhood reflects the lives of its residents, past and present. What we do matters.
In the program’s penultimate dance, titled “Common Ground,” stylish tap dancing by Brinkman-Sustache and Rachel Payden co-existed with Dianne Dziengel’s dramatic flamenco, Liam Alba’s fleet-footed Irish and Gabrielle de Kok’s bright clog dancing. The different styles from different countries and periods share a language of percussive footwork, but the title could also refer to the ground we stand on. A similar theme informed “Oh, there you are” by Payden and Gabrielle Sustache. Payden danced in tap shoes while Sustache in sneakers danced hip-hop moves: same impulses, different idioms. Finally, each saw the other’s soul.
A laid-back Lamont Johnson joked with the audience before bursting into high-speed nerve tapping with stunning shifts to smooth glides and a classic buck and wing finish. With a seasoned vaudevillian’s grin, Bob Balderson knocked off a genuine 1933 Bojangles routine. Two children successfully drove a motorized kiddie car though a road construction site in Nikki Platt’s “Work!”—a tribal number in road crew costumes with plastic buckets for drums and beers to top it off. New choreography by Brinkman-Sustache for the company struck me as wonderfully natural. The dancers seemed unguarded, glad for the challenges, at home and happy to be there.