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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

At Ease and Glad To Be Together

Danceworks' Season Closes with Want or Need

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For several years, the Danceworks Performance Company has presented several revue-style concerts of new dances choreographed by a varying roster of company members.  The choreographers also dance in one another's works and thereby help each other to realize their visions.  They've become very good at this.

“Want or Need,” a new concert of six dances running through May 6 at the Danceworks Studio Theatre, is the second such program this season, and the most uniformly accomplished collection I've seen.  Each dance engaged me intellectually and emotionally.  The dancers performed with moving transparency and no undue concern to please.  Perhaps because it closes the company's 15th season and includes revivals of two landmark works from the archives, the performance conveys the feeling of a band of dedicated travelers arriving at their destination, at ease with themselves and glad to be together.

The program opened with Toc Tic by Dani Kuepper, long time company member and artistic director since 2007.  Placing a metronome on the floor, she invited anyone in the audience who felt moved to do so to start the performance by releasing the mechanism while being careful not to change the tempo marker. As Kuepper and colleagues danced to the metronome's rhythm, she simultaneously delivered the curtain speech, introducing, welcoming, and reminding us to turn off our cell phones in a witty and impressive display of multi-tasking. There was nothing funny, however, about the challenging dance that followed.  It was a portrait of an increasingly joyless society unable to take a break.

Each dance serves a fuller review than I can give it.  Here, in order of presentation, are some thoughts.

Sarah Gonsiorowski's fascinating new work Of Mindful In(At)tention featured terrific performances by dancers Holly Keskey and Simon Eichinger.  It's too simple to say that Keskey's character wants communication while Eichinger's just wants to read a book, but that's the starting point for their strange, impassioned, haunting dance.  Like Kuepper, Gonsiorowski seems to have a questing mind.

The Gate
, Kuepper's deeply felt 2007 dance for six women, is a healing ritual in bold movements.  A recurring gesture suggests the opening of the rib cage, the gate to the heart. There are images of listening, learning, grieving, comforting, and of death as another gate.  Kuepper and the dancers, like so many others in town, are grieving the unexpected death last spring of their teacher, friend and colleague Ed Burgess.  The piece is also of genuine historical interest.

Melissa Anderson's performance in the premiere of Christal Wagner's Insert Word: I ___ You was a highlight of the show.  She played a smart, funny woman who struggles with heartbreak when her lover leaves her for another woman.  Since the performance and the choreography are endearingly honest, you can only root for her.  Wagner did a find job, but this is clearly a joint creation by the two women. Excellent use is made of sunglasses with a heart painted over each lens.  Guest dancer Cameron Mathe, in his debut with the company, played the fickle boyfriend.  Here, as in everything he did, he danced with an appealing naturalness and modesty.

Steven Moses' new work I Have What You Need features more excellent work by Holly Keskey.  This time she's a 25-year old daughter.  Dani Kuepper, always impeccable, played the mother.  Neither woman can let go.  Spoken text provides essential information.  Kuepper performs a monologue with complete credibility. The women partner one another beautifully.  The physicality is intense There are no false notes.  It leaves you aching.

I Before We
is a 2006 work by Sarah Wilbur, the company's founding artistic director and resident choreographer from 1997 – 2007.  Now a resident of Los Angeles, Wilbur returned to set this visually stunning and philosophically inspiring dance on the current company.  A consideration of isolation and collectivity, it opens up the viewers mind and provides a stimulating ending to this thoughtful show.

“Want or Need” also features excellent dancing by Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, Liz Zastrow and Christal Wagner, in addition to the others I've named.  The indispensable Jan Kellogg did the fine light design.

Want of Need continues through May 6 at the Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St.  Call 414-277-8480 or visit
www.danceworksmke.org