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Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

It’s Showtime!

Danceworks Presents Vaudeville!

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Thespis, the world’s first dramatist, honed his revolutionary art in the traveling variety shows of ancient Greece, chanting poetry in alternation with the stunts of acrobats and clowns. The great modern example of this most ancient theatrical format was Vaudeville. From the French voix de ville or “voice of the city,” it was a true people’s theatre driven by unique entertainers with skills both familiar and novel.

Choreographer Kelly Anderson of the Danceworks Performance Company and her longtime lighting designer Jan Kellogg made a series of contemporary variety shows in Milwaukee at the bohemian Cactus Club and Comet Café, and more recently at clubs in Portland, Oregon. These “really odd, pop culture oriented shows where there’s a lot of whiskey involved,” as Anderson described them, inspired in her the desire to make a similarly entertaining but non-alcoholic show for the concert stage. The result is Vaudeville!, the new premiere by Danceworks Performance Company running Feb. 18 -27 at the Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. Kellogg will light it.

As research, Anderson spent time in Chicago with “Miss Vivian,” now in her 80s, a longtime veteran of the vaudeville circuit, half of the duo Pinto and Viv who tap danced on pedals that hammered their drum accompaniment. Viv’s stories inspired Anderson’s choreographic choices, and her scrapbooks inspired the set and costume designs.

As choreographer, Anderson assigned characters and the dancers developed them. The bill includes a swim piece, a trio of acrobats, a magic act, a child star (played by adult dancer Melissa Anderson, a fine comedienne), a skill-based pas de deux inspired by flapper dancing and a piece for conjoined twins.  Guest Ben Follensbee in drag is “The Girl Who Posed For Ivory Soap.”  Guest Steven Zarzecki is “The Coin Operated Boy,” inspired by ventriloquist acts.

All the members of the Danceworks company will perform.  DPC’s artistic director Dani Kuepper is an acrobat and a conjoined twin. “It’s showtime!” she said about the process of developing her characters. “As a former Kid from Wisconsin, I do know how to channel that.”

Guest choreographer Ed Burgess, chair of the UWM Peck School of the Arts Dance Program, composed a dance for choreographer Anderson inspired by vaudeville singing star Eva Tanguay. “She was a brassy early feminist and a great provocateur,” Burgess said. “Her famous song was ‘I Don’t Care.’ I don’t care what anyone thinks of me; I am what I am.  I thought it was a great song for Kelly, who is a modern gal, free-spirited, bold and true to herself, an original in our community.  We use a version of the song by Judy Garland.  It’s not a historical piece; it’s a piece that shows Kelly as the person she is, with all her dancing and acting ability.  She’s the ‘I Don’t Care Girl.’  Her special skill is that she doesn’t care.”
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