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Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012

Danceworks at 15

Connecting creativity and community through movement

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"It's like a monster eating the city!" jokes Artistic Director Dani Kuepper about the many-limbed Danceworks. A professional contemporary dance company fostering new work, Danceworks is also a school where upward of 1,000 adults and children are currently enrolled in more than 70 studio classes in dance, fitness, visual art and theater. Danceworks' school residencies serve students bereft of other opportunities for art education. The Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap Program offers classes, performances and a young artist company, and its 2011 annual citywide competition included 2,000 students from 39 schools. Other potentially life-changing activities include an Intergenerational Multi-Arts Program joining seniors and schoolchildren in collaborative performances at health-care and community centers.

The classes and community programs help fulfill Danceworks' mission "to connect creativity and community," and the resulting rich relationships inform the company's art. The Danceworks Performance Company (DPC) presents three concerts each season and supports new work by emerging artists in a laboratory series.

"Our seasons have a broad range because we deal with so many people in so many ways in so many settings," Kuepper says.

DPC opened its 15th season last November with the gorgeous tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires in collaboration with Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra and the UW-Milwaukee Dance Department. Kuepper and UWM's Simone Ferro choreographed the show.

"We started as a collaborative company," Kuepper says. "Somewhere in the middle, it became Sarah Wilbur and I choreographing everything. Sarah left and I was the choreographer along with guests. Then I saw all these great, unique people coming from UWM. I started to think about what makes us different from other companies. We are a place for young choreographers. That's how the company started. I reconnected to the opportunity for everyone to choreograph—all who want to, as much as they want to."

DPC made a leap in that direction two seasons ago with Lights, DPC...ACTION!, a movie-themed concert to which many members contributed choreography. It was full of fun, a monster hit, but the company felt it could do better on a second try, and so, coming Jan. 20, there will be The Sequel!

The cinematic inspirations for The Sequel! are all-new. Melissa Anderson, whose Busby Berkeley tribute opened the original concert, chose Bollywood. "I love the idea of busting into joyous dance just for fun, and since every Bollywood film is a romance, I'm interested in what's considered masculine and feminine," she says.

Simon Eichinger, whose horror movie scene was a highlight of Lights, is her co-choreographer. "In recent years, Bollywood has hired hip-hop choreographers from L.A.," he says. "We're doing traditional, hip-hop and all in between."

Eichinger also choreographed a second dance, a Western. "It might be closest to Blazing Saddles," he adds.

Kelly Anderson returns with a duet whose reference is the classic Casablanca. She'll perform it with guest artist Steve Moses, her partner in a sly Italianate romance in Lights. "I chose Casablanca for its bittersweet ending," she explains. "This series for Steve and I might not become a trilogy!"

For her solo performance, Holly Keskey researched film treatments of Alice in Wonderland. She also made a group piece based on notable film dances, including Tom Cruise's shameless cavorting in Risky Business. "I'm interested in how people move when nobody's watching," she says.

Sarah Gonsiorowski studied the lead female characters in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and Jackie Brown. "These unique, powerful characters were created by a man who honors their complexities and strengths," she says. Her trio samples dialogue from the films. "By the end, the dancers are in conversation physically and verbally."

Associate Artistic Director Kim Johnson-Rockafellow's genre is the documentary. Her courageous subject is the silence that follows terrible news, and the movements we make when speech becomes impossible. "It's not steps," she explains. "It's what I've been living with in the year since my mother died of cancer."

Kuepper uses Superman and Lois Lane for her piece. "Funny is hard," she rightly observes. "The physicality of this piece is difficult. If the challenge isn't in the brains of it, it's in the body of it."

The Sequel! runs Jan. 20-29 at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. For more information, call 414-277-8480 ext. 6025 or visit www.danceworksmke.org.

John Schneider was the resident playwright and director of Theatre X. He teaches at Marquette University.