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Friday, Jan. 28, 2011

UWM Winterdances Features Masterworks

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“A dancer doesn’t have to emotionalize – he needs to motionalize,” the late great 20th century American choreographer Alwin Nikolais used to say.  “He doesn’t even have to be a person – he can be a thing, a place or a time.”

Nikolai’s hallucinogenic 1964 work Water Studies will be presented by the UWM Peck School of the Arts dance department as part of “Winterdances: Egalite” Feb. 3-7 at UWM’s Mainstage Theatre. The program also features the living American choreographer Mark Morris’ famous 1982 dance, Canonic Studies.  The National Endowment for the Arts has supported reconstructions of these masterworks on the BFA students who are training both as performers and choreographers.  Completing the program are premieres by department chair Ed Burgess and faculty members Dani Kuepper and Elizabeth Johnson, each exploring the theme of the season, Masculine/Feminine.

“I celebrate the students for their open-mindedness and versatility,” Burgess told me when I mentioned my own enthusiasm for their dancing. “They say everything about our department through their expressiveness, athleticism and communicative skills on stage, in a better way than I could say it as the chair. I’m really happy for them that a lot of people feel that way.”

Burgess described the Nikolais piece as “a world of beings, not necessarily human.” Nikolais is famous for disguising his dancers’ bodies in radical costumes, masks, projections and lighting. Water Studies is rarely performed.  It was set on the students by Alberto del Saz, a 25-year veteran of the Nikolais company and the artistic director of the repertory; the man who knows, teaches, and protects the quality of the work.  At del Saz’ invitation, the students will perform it at Hunter College in New York City for the centennial of Nikolais’ birth in April.

The Morris piece, in Burgess’ words, is “a beautifully made, funny, joyful creation. Every section of the dance has some sort of canon in it.” A canon, in Webster’s words, is “a composition in which the same melody is repeated by one or more voices, overlapping in time, in the same or related keys.”  The dance explores this in surprising ways.  Victoria Stepanova will play the piano accompaniment.

“Nikolais and Morris are visionary in different ways,” Burgess said.  “Both push the art form forward. These reconstructions teach us to keep thinking about everything that a great dance is, what can go into a dance and what a dance can be. Great dances don’t follow one model. It’s the adventurousness and individuality that stand out, so they inspire us to be adventurous and individual.”

Burgess described his new work, Sin City, as “a purposely campy and irreverent look at men and women behaving badly and getting just what they deserve.” Percussionist Seth Warren-Crow and pianist David Wake will perform their original score.

Dani Kuepper’s Invisible Truth is a meditative dance that considers different views on spirituality. It’s set to sacred choral music performed live by the UWM Concert Chorale under Sharon Hanson. Elizabeth Johnson’s postmodern BALL/AD explores love, lust and heartbreak as represented in pop ballads by Arrowsmith, Kelly Clarkson and Bad English.  Each dancer carries a basketball.

All performances are at 7:30 p.m. except Sunday’s at 2:00 PM.  The Mainstage Theatre is at 2400 Kenwood Blvd.  Call 414-229-4308.
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