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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Plugging into MTV

Music videos inspire Danceworks' 'Plugged In'

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My date was surprised that Jason Powell is not a rock star, so perfectly does he look and sound the part in Plugged In, the wonderful Danceworks Performance Company show that opened last weekend and will be repeated May 8-10. Powell’s original songs—tributes to Devo, The Talking Heads, The Cure and Adam Ant—provide the show’s backbone. The set is a minimalist nightclub with bar, background video and sexy lighting by Edward Winslow.

Powell is wittily costumed and made up for each number. The Danceworks Performance Company, staged by Artistic Director Dani Kuepper, surrounds him with amusing takes on 1980s music videos. Between Powell’s numbers, the dancers perform new original material that feels very close to their own skins. To my taste, this is one of the company’s most distinctive and enjoyable shows.

Each dance flows into the next. Christal Wagner’s intense air drumming in the “video” for Powell’s Tie Me Up transforms into a surprising, complex, full-bodied solo appropriately titled Bang, Crash, Snap, Slam. Kim Johnson’s Ocular Sound follows as the company enters, automaton-like, with fast footwork. Your attention bounces from dancer to dancer; you drink the scene in as you might at a nightclub. Next, Joelle Worm, Melissa Anderson and Wagner draw laughs imitating mechanical blenders mixing drinks to hand in pantomime to audience members. Kuepper is there with actual wine refills for those who bought a glass preshow at the onstage bar.

Alberto Cambra, Liz Zastrow, Wagner and guest Andrew Zanoni, home from NYC, engage in extreme social dancing and drinking in Gina Laurenzi’s glorious How You Doin?  Zenoni stays after hours for a fierce solo about something beyond sexual frustration. Melissa Anderson goes surreal as an aloof punk elf in her deadpan Rip It, Burn It, Drag it, Drop It. Johnson is ferocious, nearly turning herself inside out in her solo to lyrics like “I am the wonder, I am the storm.”

With the arrival onstage of Tyrone “DJ Bizzon” Miller, the musical accompaniment gains presence and suspense. Guest hip-hop dancers Richard Basefield, Rasheeda Panniell and Samantha Patrick join the company in improvisations choreographed by Worm. They compare styles and create hybrids. It’s a still tentative but forward-looking exploration.

Plugged In repeats May 8 at 8:30 p.m. and May 9-10 at 7:30 p.m. at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. For tickets, call 414-277-8480 x6025 or visit danceworksmke.org.