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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

UWM Presents Summerdances 2014

New choreography by faculty, students and guests

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The UW-Milwaukee Dance Department closes each school year with an edition of “Summerdances,” a concert of new work by faculty and guest choreographers created during the year with students. Each edition has an artistic director to oversee it, in this case, choreographer Luc Vanier whose program notes reminded us that the teacher/dancer relationship is dance’s lifeline. “Summerdances” always addresses the present, honors the past and looks forward with curiosity, and that was especially true this year. Subtitled “Lineage,” the show toasted the department’s 50th birthday.

Ferne Caulker-Bronson, a faculty member since 1971, is the most distinguished of this edition’s choreographers. Her Ko-Thi Dance Company, founded in 1969, rivals the department in longevity. She also founded UWM’s African dance major. Her piece, “Their Eyes Are Watching God,” featuring guest choreographer/performer Christal Wagner, defined lineage. A gorgeously costumed and lighted ceremony by a priestess and her small congregation grew with perfect transparency into ecstatic, contemporary dance theater, absorbing African Diaspora developments along the way. Desmond Cotton proved an electrifying soloist. The dancers seemed poised between earth and sky, then and now. As the modern evolved from the archaic, Bronson made organic space for Wagner’s lovely 2007 solo “Sojourn.” Wagner, a member of Danceworks Performance Company, is doing breakout work all over town.

Dani Kuepper is artistic director of Danceworks Performance Company and, after Bronson, the longest running faculty member on this program. Her “Cordial gaggle…crooked wing” is quite simply the funniest dance I have ever seen. Young women in swan ballet costumes practice a repertoire of deeply silly movements to a Bach violin concerto and Beethoven’s Fidelio, then commence falling over one another in complex patterns and with perfect seriousness to “Funeral Sentences for the Death of Queen Mary I” by Purcell. Smarter than parody, filled with suspense and impeccably executed, this cracked tribute to the European roots of dance is a comic masterpiece.

The remaining dances addressed the current zeitgeist. The dancers in “Bloom Unfinished” by newest faculty member Maria Gillespie were as present through closed circuit and pre-recorded video as flesh. Self-absorbed and nerve-wracked, they were what they are: youngsters seeking lives. “Stand Till you Fall (the tune was an old rebel one…)” by past faculty member Elizabeth Johnson, and “do not go gently” by guest choreographer Rebecca Stern address courage, Johnson’s punk anti-dance with a wounded defiance and Stern’s high-energy group charge through sheer will.