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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eclectic Mix in UWM’s ‘Summerdances: Uncovered’

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If you attend “Summerdances: Uncovered,” the major concert to be presented through June 5 by the Department of Dance of the UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts, you will do well to bring an open mind about what constitutes contemporary dance; so said two of the dancers, Andrew Zanoni and Ben Follensbee, speaking with joy and wonder about the range of styles represented in the program. Now undergraduate seniors, they agreed that, as a whole, this is the most experimental concert in their years at UWM, and they expect a range of reactions.

Forewarned then, I attended a rehearsal of one of the five new works in the program, What You’re Thinking,by Elizabeth Johnson from the dance faculty and Heather Warren-Crow of the visual arts faculty. I don’t know what I expected—something less moving, at any rate—but what I saw joins the list of my personal favorites this season. It’s built on a stammering, provocative text by Warren-Crow, an artist I’ve admired since I saw her singing a torch song and crawling blindfolded in the 2009 “Performance Art Showcase.” As is the case here, she and Johnson often focus on media and other representations of women, but this time a broader criticism of our culture is on display: the disconnect between actions and consequences, or what Johnson called our culture of mass delusion. The youthful cast clearly gets this multimedia piece and looks great in it.

Other new works are by Milwaukee artists I admire: Simone Ferro will have two Brazilian-inspired pieces, one set in the lobby of the UWM Mainstage Theatre, where the concert will take place; Dani Kuepper’s Sink, Gasp, Float is a work about identity in a dark vein; and Janet Lilly plays with pop music messages. Krislyn World Heil, whose work I don’t know, will deploy Latin dance and Vegas showgirl imagery.

The featured event is Garth Fagan’s late-1970s masterpiece From Before.Best known as the Tony Award-winning choreographer of The Lion King,Fagan is internationally celebrated for combining Caribbean and African dance with American and European styles with full respect for their distinct techniques and goals. Zanoni and Follensbee, featured in a duet, believe the choreography pays homage to everything in Fagan’s multicultural dance history to its moment of creation (hence the title), and that it’s a beautiful challenge for the almost entirely Caucasian student cast, hand-picked by Fagan over three days of auditions.

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