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Thursday, July 5, 2012

NomadicLIMBS Delights

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As if sensing my feelings—namely, that it was a privilege to be sitting in the tiny Carte Blanche Studios theatre so close to the riveting dancer Isaac Sharratt as he gave his all in the opening passages of choreographer Cheyla Clawson's Dear Me, a dance about seeing oneself in some acute way—the young woman seated beside me, a stranger, dropped her head against my shoulder. Surprised by this emotional and physical intimacy, I turned to her, just as she looked straight at me.  Suddenly she stood and began—or rather continued—to dance.  I quickly saw five other women dancing from their places in the audience, turning other viewers into dancing partner

So began the first performance of the new NomadicLIMBS, a collective of highly trained ballet and modern dancers from various cities assembled in Milwaukee by their friend, the company's young artistic director, Thom Dancy.  The 50-minute program included new and recent works by members, rehearsed at Bucketworks during the first weeks of their summer off-season.  Dancy hopes to reassemble the company in some fashion every summer, expand the number of performances in Milwaukee, and tour.  Let's hope funding materializes, as it did for three performances last weekend.

Sharratt, a rising Milwaukee Ballet star, danced from a chair on the bare stage, facing us as if we were behind a mirror.  My partner turned out to be Tara Gragg, a Michigan-born graduate of the University of Oklahoma who has danced in San Diego, Tulsa, Grand Rapids and Shanghai.  She stayed very close to me, sometimes using me for support, moving rapidly in ways that could have damaged us both had we misjudged one another.  It was intensely moving to have the always-present partnership of audience and performers so unabashedly expressed.  I am grateful to the talented Clawson, who choreographs for Wichita Contemporary Dance Theatre, Contemporary Dance Oklahoma and others, and to the caring Ms. Gragg.

Dancy has just graduated from Milwaukee Ballet's second company, the professional training program known as MBII.  It was easy to imagine him dreaming up, together with the dancer Mary-Elizabeth Fenn, the playful, impudent choreography of Been Moved to Nina Simone's hot "Do I Move You?"  As danced by Fenn, a Wisconsin native and 2010 UWM dance department graduate with an impressive resume, it was raw, androgynous and funny.

In contrast, one of the strengths of Dancy's other piece in the program, The Unfastened Amendment, was its modesty.  Composed for the trio of Fenn, Milwaukee Ballet's brilliant Nicole Teague, and Tyler Schnese, a talented NY undergrad from Appleton, it begins with the dancers offering short personal statements about sexual attraction.  As they dance, alone or in pairs, they often face the back wall where misty video close-ups by Margaret Bobo-Dancy play, showing them in straight and gay couplings, all to tender songs by Jill Scott and Mos Def.  It felt like an early experiment by a young choreographer careful not to bite off more than he could honestly chew.

Fenn choreographed the absurdist Excerpt from Creole Cinderella to the delightful song "Belleville Rendevous."   Sharratt, restrained and perfect in drag, played a matron leading her charges, Gragg and Caitlin Sullivan (from the main company of San Diego Ballet), through galloping feminine dance movements.

Sharratt and Teague choreographed There's This to music by Devotchka.  The well-constructed male-female love duet, with complicated partnering and human-scale lifts, feels true.  Sharratt and Gragg danced it sweetly.

The concert ended with Ariel Asch's Take What Shadow Is Left, accompanied by cello, piano, xylophone and violin performed live by members of the choreographer's family.   The violinist played from the aisle beside me, echoing the communal opening, bringing that pleasure full circle.  This time, a melancholy atmosphere prevailed.  The first and final parts of Asch's dance are searching duets for Schnese and Kayla Schroepfer (a senior dance major at UWM and a member of the Milwaukee ensemble, Your Mother Dances).  A long middle section for four women suggested sober, shared understanding. When Schroepfer returned to Schnese, it was as if to a gentle alien.   The talented Asch, a Milwaukee native with many choreographic credits, is the director of NYC's Indie-Ballet Collaborative.