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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Green Dancing

Danceworks at Sweet Water Organics

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The moral of the folk tale that gives this dance its name is that a community can do what no one person can accomplish alone. Stone Soup is a unified dance created and performed by the resident members of the Danceworks Performance Company and guest Andrew Zenoni under the direction of Danceworks' artistic director Dani Kuepper and associate artistic director Kim Johnson-Rockafellow. Four performances were given last weekend in a repurposed warehouse in Bay View that once belonged to Harnischfeger Industries and is now home to Sweet Water Organics, a Bay View urban farm.

Seth Warren-Crow, a composer and sound artist who has become an important force in the Milwaukee performing arts, created a score on which the company built the dance. In the performance, Warren-Crow (percussion), Sean Behling (clarinet), David Collins (sax) and Jeff Klattt (cello) improvised to the score, creating beautifully unpredictable progressive jazz. The performance opened with the musicians walking slowly in shadowy procession from one end of the very long space to their bandstand at the other while twirling pieces of hose to produce high hollow sounds as the air travels through, creating harmonies as physics will have it.


In contrast, the choreography was tightly structured and precisely defined. Dancers arrived one by one, each with a signature movement phrase. As the space filled, you saw that some phrases echoed others without mirroring them, while others remained unique to an individual dancer. Circular and circulating patterns established a world, so to speak, which was an inexact, abstract mirror of the farming processes of Sweet Water Organics. It was disarming and increasingly fascinating to watch the nine very different dancers occupy the long space, coming and going with pageant-like slowness, forming groups of varying numbers to dance in perfect unison beside other groups with different patterns, while at least one dancer did something entirely different but somehow related.

I found myself breathing with the dancers and feeling their movements in my body. The audience sat close on bleachers; we saw their sweat.  The dancers were intensely focused, as they had to be to keep their place in the score while executing tricky moves at speed. A finale in which the room was inundated by their sweeping, swirling unison dancing was galvanic. The non-theatre setting was exciting, but this choreography would hold up anywhere.

Behind the dancers, painted large on the stone wall, was the Sweet Water slogan: 
“There Grows the Neighborhood.”  Four windows let the evening light in. Designer Jan Kellogg aimed her theatrical lights to make the dancers' shadows sweep the walls, multiplying the patterns and keeping attention on the whole space.

A tour of Sweet Water Organics preceded the performance. There is so much more to say about the company than this review can accommodate. The Sweet Water Foundation exists specifically to educate Milwaukeeans of every age in the green techniques employed by this aquaponic fish and vegetable farm. 
Stop at 2151 S. Robinson St. for information and to buy some fresh tilapia or perch.