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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Love and Art and Lime Trees

Danceworks DanceLAB kicks off summer concert series

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Danceworks DanceLAB is an incubator and a showcase for dance experiments. Its summer series began last weekend with The Chemistry of Lime Trees, a two-act concert by Daniel Burkholder and The PlayGround, Burkholder's company from Washington, D.C. This was Burkholder's MFA thesis for the UW-Milwaukee Dance Department. Three of his D.C. collaborators joined him onstage. All are mature, riveting performers.

Each act interpreted a true story. “She arrived, alone” was created and danced by Burkholder and Kathryn Harris Banks to elegiac music by D.C. composer Jonathan Matis. It tells of a young Russian woman who arrived at Ellis Island in 1910 to marry a childhood friend who'd immigrated two years earlier and sent for her. Now he doesn't want her and she's stranded on the island.

The audience arrived to find Burkholder dressed as an immigrant farmer, slowly covering the black floor with grain. Banks entered, moving like a ship docking, guided by thick rope held by Burkholder. She carried an armful of Russian dolls. Through dance and symbolic gestures, the performers conveyed the realities of a chilling relationship in which one person is all-powerful. As Burkholder's character rejected Banks', he swept the grain into a tiny island around her. She danced, isolated, nowhere.

The second act shared the program's title. At its heart was the love story of a Muslim woman and a Serbian man murdered in Sarajevo in 1992. Susan Oetgen and Burkholder danced the lovers while Stephanie Yezek sang and spoke a text, which took us as far back as World War I. Violent Balkan history was vividly portrayed by the powerful Burkholder hurling metal chairs at full force. The erotic counterforce was conveyed with satisfying truthfulness in the rhythms of a kiss and an embrace. The creators acknowledged and then rejected a tragic view in order to extol the lovers' courage.

Burkholder began the second act devouring limes while describing the delicate conditions required for growing lime trees. If sometimes this work felt restricted, slightly rarified—too consciously a thesis, perhaps—it was intellectually solid, inquisitive and wonderfully ambitious, fine growing conditions.