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Catey Ott’s Graceful Homecoming

A tribute to dance and ‘The Incomparable Hildegarde’

Apr. 7, 2014
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In her hour-long dance theater piece LIVING IT UP (and dOWN), choreographer/dancer Catey Ott playfully compared aspects of her own life with that of her grandmother’s cousin from Adell, Wis., Hildegarde Sell. Billed as “The Incomparable Hildegarde,” Sell was an elegant pop singer, pianist and personality in the prestigious supper clubs on the New York-Paris circuit in the decades surrounding World War II. Old recordings of her singing with a period dance orchestra provided the show’s always-interesting accompaniment. Milwaukee design artist C. Kai Marquardt fashioned a deco-inspired mirror and chaise longue that served as dressing room, boudoir and stage, spaces for self-reflection and self-expression. Colin Gawronski did the warm lighting. The costumes—especially the shoulder-length white gloves worn by Ott and performance artist Kim Miller as Hildegarde surrogates, and the shocking pink chiffon dresses worn by the young chorus—summoned the supper-club era. Everything was properly dear.

The show’s title refers to a passage from Hildegarde’s autobiography Over 50—So What! The singer describes her “upstairs” and “downstairs” selves: the solitary thinker and the public personality. The passage was quoted in a dialogue by Ott and Miller that also offered Hildegarde’s tips on how to maintain physical and mental health into old age. As they spoke, the two performers shared birthday cake, partnered each other in spirited ballroom and tap dancing and considered Hildegarde’s thoughts about the value of solitude.

On turning 40 last year, Ott brought her husband and young son home to Milwaukee from New York City. This show’s weekend run at Danceworks Studio Theatre marked the full arrival of the reconstructed Catey Ott Dance Collective. New company members Danielle Allen and Elisabeth O’Keefe, appealing young Wisconsin dancers, had some of the loveliest moments in the show, representing the choreographer’s conflicting urges toward motherhood and career. The five pink-clad dancers are members of Marquette University’s Pure Dance and Ott’s current students. Their love for dancing radiated. You could see Ott see her younger self in these youngsters.

Ott is a wonderful dancer. Her opening solo with its dance jokes and quick style changes was charming. As choreographer, she managed throughout to balance an appropriately self-mocking self-consciousness (this is about a midlife crisis, after all) with unguarded intimacy.












TAGS: Catey Ott, Incomparables Hildegarde, John Schneider, LIVING IT UP (and dOWN), C. Kai Marquardt, Colin Gawronski, Kim Miller, Over 50—So What!, Danceworks Studio Theatre, Catey Ott Dance Collective, Danielle Allen, Elisabeth O’Keefe, Marquette University, Pure Dance



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