Danceworks: Fifteenth anniversary program
The tick of a metronome — I’m guessing about 90 beats per minute — opened Danceworks’ concert Friday evening. That ticking sort of tied together a wide-ranging evening of six dances by five choreographers. Most of them had at least one passage in which a steady beat drives an ensemble that takes on a mechanical quality.
Dani Kuepper made it most explicit in her new Toc Tic, which opened the program with the metronome as accompaniment. Kuepper cleverly incorporated her curtain speech — the usual stuff about cell phones and subscription discounts — into the rhythm of her dancing. Kuepper established her limbs as hands of a clock and ticked through all manner of nifty variations on this theme. Four more dancers dashed in and took up positions at 12, 3, 6 and 9 around her. As she stood, they mostly stayed close to the floor and worked through further variations on the tick-tock imagery.
The five began to take on the qualities of an ever more intricate clockwork, even after the metronome was silenced. As the ensemble grew to eight, the machinery of the dance became still more complicated. The dancers sung or spoke bits of e.e. cummings poetry and lines from a Cheap Trick song. “I want you to want me,” Christal Wagner sang, as she reversed through a breathtaking spiral down to the floor. The utterances become poignant expressions of human souls enmeshed in a system that is bigger than they are.
Sarah Gonsiorowski’s Of Mindful In(At)tention, also a premiere, is a scenes-from-a-marriage piece for Holly Keskey and Simon Eichinger. He sits on a sofa and reads a book. He needs his space. She’s needy and wants attention, which she finally gains just as Chopin’s Minute Waltz pops in. Gonsiorowski’s very witty waltz turns on Keskey’s determined and physically charged pursuit of Eichinger. Sometimes he receives her and collects her energy, which they release together in imaginative lifts as they travel across the floor. But sometimes she gets what she wants, then goes inexplicably limp. Sometimes he dodges her or deflects her energy. It takes but a minute for him to return to the sofa and his book.
The waltz is funny in a romantic-comedy way, but this is not a healthy relationship. Keskey — an athletic, substantial little fireball of a dancer with extraordinary dramatic focus in her eyes — tried again to get his attention, this time in a disquieting solo focused on an uncontrollable tic in the right shoulder. Eichinger’s having none of it, and she flees. In the last scene, Eichinger touchingly retraces some of the steps from the waltz. Ah, you can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em.
Christal Wagner’s Insert word: I ____ You is another romantic comedy gone wrong. Melissa Anderson, adorable as ever in designer jeans and a striped shirt, happens upon Cameron Mathe, pretty adorable himself in a sweater and jeans. He charms her, they dance together, lightly and conventionally — not so much Fred and Ginger in spirit as, say Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. He gives her some ridiculous opaque glasses with hearts on the lenses, and their innocent love charms us all. But whoa — on comes Wagner, to sweep Mathe away and leave Anderson alone and literally blinded by love. Her ensuing solo is meant to be cathartic — she leaves the glasses tossed aside on the stage when she exits — but it’s a little too ground-bound and repetitive to get the job done. Insert word: I ____ You almost works, but Wagner has to fill in some blanks at the end.
Steven Moses delves deeper into a relationship in his new I Have What You Need, for Kuepper and Keskey. They might be mother and daughter, or sisters. They open the piece lying together as if in bed. As they roll about, Keskey clings to Kuepper and recites a litany of the things she needs, friends and money among them. Moses has woven a great deal of complicated dialogue into a great deal of complicated close partnering. That almost never goes well, but it does in this piece. Keskey — a superb actress, as it turns out — relentlessly pursues and embraces Kuepper and makes her take her weight. Kuepper slips out the clinches and again and again, but never flatly refuses Keskey. If you’ve ever borne the weight of a dysfunctional loved one, this piece will strike to your core.
Kuepper’s The Gate, from 2007, bore a strong relation to Toc Tic. In retrospect, we could see that some of the clock imagery of the new piece derived from some of the circular folk-dance imagery of the older dance, to music by Joji Hirota and the Kodo drummers. Here Kuepper makes a little tribe of six dancers. After a slow, ceremonious opening solo by Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, the ensemble enters. They form and re-form arches and gates — extended legs swing open as colleagues pass through to sacred ground. The charm of the middle part of the dance lies in the disjuncture of the hot physicality of virtuoso ensemble dancing and the formal demeanor of the dancers. No matter how fast and complicated things get, they remain cool and composed, both in their faces and in their torsos.
Another revival, Sarah Wilbur’s I Before We, from 2006, has a similar wandering-tribe theme for eight dancers, but it plays out in somber half-light. They huddle up and sleep, stirred by dreams. They pull up chairs and settle in as if in a waiting room. They folk-dance in circles. They fly apart as single atoms and regroup as a community. These things run in cycles. It’s just a matter of time.
In addition to those mentioned above, Liz Zastrow danced brilliantly in three numbers and fit right into an company of strong technical dancers with great stage presence.
Concert Info: This program, called Want or Need, celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Danceworks Performance Company. It will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays (April 28 and May 5), 2:30 p.m. Sundays (April 29 and May 6), and 8:30 p.m. Thursday (May 3), at the Danceworks Studio, 1661 N. Water St. Tickets are $25 for reserved, premium seating, $20 for general admission seating, and $15 for students and seniors. For tickets, call the Danceworks box office at 414 277-8480, ext. 6025, or visit Danceworks’ website. Free parking is available.
Display picture on A&C page: The company in Kuepper’s “The Gate.” Frohna photo.