Danceworks gets goofy and spooky

Footsteps, Shadows, and Whispers offers collaborations and new works.

You can always expect an eclectic program when the Danceworks Performance Company gets together to show its latest stuff. And this weekend’s concert, called Footsteps, Shadows and Whispers, was no exception. The company continues its dedication to collaborative work, which made this concert more theatrical than most, thanks to DPC combining forces with composers, music ensembles and a filmmaker.

Dani Kuepper’s Sleep Waking was a big departure from her recent work, partly because its musical base is an “improvised response” to a graphic score by composer Allen Russell. The music—provided by an onstage quartet of strings—was for texture and atmosphere rather than rhythm, so the movement was free-wheeling rather than structured. With the female dancers in a variety of formal long dresses, it was hard not to think that Kuepper was lampooning the late Pina Bausch’s company and its particular brand of enigmatic dance theater. Dancers fought over a hand-held microphone to tell stories about nightmare anxieties, and the string music was supplemented by an onstage vacuum cleaner. It was great fun, even though the concept didn’t play to Kuepper’s strengths as a dance maker.

The Cadance Collective’s Jitterbug Suite: A Memory was equally theatrical but less surreal. Cadance consists of dancer Christal Wagner, cellist Alicia Storin, and flutist Emma Koi. Based on interviews conducted at the Shorewood Senior Resource Center, Jitterbug Suite used the duo’s spare versions of World-War-II-era tunes and the recorded voices of a couple to evoke the time when Milwaukee’s Eagles Club Ballroom still hosted dancers. But Wagner’s choreography was not simply part of the nostalgia. It used neatly integrated mime to evoke the stories being told, but it also found ways to comment on the bittersweet nature of memory itself.

Wagner also choreographed a short, witty piece—Hubris—set to the propulsive “Newgrass” music of The Punch Brothers, and filled with thumping feet; whipping rubbery arms; and some dazzling floor work.

Gina Laurenzi’s Figments was appropriate for the post-Halloween weekend, a vaguely Victorian evocation of the spirits that nag, haunt and sometimes possess us. Three figures in ivory are often literally shadowed by three in black, and what starts as general foreboding and pesky tweaks leads to a full-scale transformation.

Kym McDaniel’s Ghost Light was equally spooky, but used McDaniel’s own film and lighting effects, along with projected text that made the art of dance–with its sharing of spirits and bodies–sound both intensely erotic and darn right supernatural.

The strongest piece on the bill was Dawn Springer’s Dreams of Flight. Performed completely in silence, it begins with Christal Wagner alone, moving with a gestural vocabulary that suggests soaring dreams and powerful concentration. Eventually, all nine Danceworks company members join her for a dazzling example of ensemble precision (an almost psychic way of initiating phrases) and simple, but beautiful composition. There is a mathematical rigor here, but poignant warmth as well: spirits fly even as bodies remain earthbound.

The concert will be presented again tonight and Sunday.



Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.