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Monday, Feb. 4, 2013

Danceworks’ Lovable Serendipity

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The Danceworks Performance Company is giving one of its finest concerts under an unassuming title, “Serendipity. Each of its six pieces deserves a longer life than this short run will permit. The remaining performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, February 7-9, at 7:30 p.m. and a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday, February 10. The program opens with In Passing, an extended improvisation under the direction of DPC's Joelle Worm.  Core company members Melissa Anderson, Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, Dani Kuepper and Liz Zastrow are joined by four extremely capable guests:  Katharina Abderholden, Jessie Mae Scibek, Christina Briggs-Winslow and her husband Edward Winslow. All are riveting.   Improvisation demands constant choices, both conscious and impulsive. The dancers form an ideal society in which each person is free to create but is also responsive to the actions of everyone else and committed to the success of the whole endeavor. No narrative is required since the reality of what is going on is so absorbing and so moving.

The dancers follow the rhythms and phrasing of the outstanding musical accompaniment from Trois couleurs: Bleu, Blanc, Rouge by Zbigniew Preisner.  Worm has also given them some simple rules that provide logic and structure—similar to the way a song is used by improvising jazz musicians—but the outcome will be very different at every performance.

As a child, I adored Johann Strauss.  I'd make up my own dances to his waltzes in the basement of the family home. So I was primed to adore Marianne's Rapture, Dani Kuepper's solo to Strauss' "Tales From The Vienna Woods," but I had no idea that I would fall in love this hard—as hard as poor Marianne does with the unseen person to whom she displays every color of her soul before dying with his arrow in her chest.  This is the simply the funniest dance performance I have ever seen—so smart, so shameless, so openhearted. I doubt that anyone but Kuepper could do it. I will treasure the memory.

The Violet Hour by guest choreographer Emma Draves  follows instantly. The radical shift from Strauss to the Kronos Quartet playing a contemporary take on an Iraqi folk song is thrilling.  Draves' dance is a contemporary take on a classical Indian dance form of which she is a well-trained scholar. Four longtime members of DPC's very solid core of dancer/choreographers— Anderson, Johnson-Rockafellow, Zastrow, and Christal Wagner—nailed the playful, earthy, sexy, physically demanding choreography. It's a joy to see these grown-up artists so assured and powerful in a movement style they've never tried before.

Premieres by Johnson-Rockafellow and Liz Tesch offer additional pleasures. Both works are personal and exploratory.  Neither is perfect yet.  In Be Here Now, Johnson-Rockafellow's rues the impossibility of the title's advice. Her three dancers are pulled, distracted, eventually driven nearly to exhaustion.  In a coda (which was for me unnecessary), they find equilibrium. One Last Thing is Tesch's first work since her return from maternity leave with her first child, a daughter.  It's a short, tender, meditative, melancholy work, created after the recent shooting in Oak Creek.  Tesch dances alone, but the lovely a capella singing by Rachel Payden the provides the live accompaniment that makes this a true duet.

Serendipity's” finale is another thoroughly enjoyable piece of dance-theater by Kuepper. Also a premiere, The Disenchantment of Helium, was inspired by a posthumously published collection of street photographs by Vivian Meier.  In some cases, Meier's subjects were aware that she was shooting them; in others, not.  Kuepper managed to include imagery from about 25 of Meier's photos. In a talk back, she explained that she saw the dance as a kind of flipbook journey through Meier's collection, but it's better than that.  Dancers Anderson, Johnson-Rockafellow, Wagner, Worm, Zastrow and season-long guest Alberto Cambra transform into a stunning array of mostly human creatures in many states of awareness and feeling. The dance has humor, wonder and immense compassion. The last dance of death image is both joyous and heartbreaking.