There’s something for everyone this month on the Milwaukee dance scene, with all-new performances by three of the city’s heavy hitters.
At the Pabst, Milwaukee Ballet’s Genesis features works by three choreographers: Australia’s Cass Mortimer Eipper, Spaniard Aleix Mañé and Kenneth Tindall, of Scotland.
Running Feb. 14-17, the biannual choreographic competition is a demanding format for any dancemaker; each is tasked with making a 20-minute piece in three weeks. And there’s more: the casting is pulled from a hat, so each choreographer is randomly assigned four men and four women.
“You can’t quite find exactly what the language is going to be until you see the dancers you have,” said Eipper. Each of the choreographers chatted with me on the last day of their second week of rehearsals.
All three said they used the first week to explore different types of movement to see what would gel with the cast and the vision for their piece (and lamented the two days lost to the polar vortex).
Eipper is now developing more structure with his dancers, in an abstract work loosely based on the evolution of man. It deals with “notions of humanity and the complexity of what it is to be a human,” he said, adding, “It’s pretty gritty and raw.”
For Mañé , the challenge is perhaps even greater. After 12 years with Spain’s Compañía Nacional de Danza, the young choreographer parted ways with the company in September, 2018, to focus more on making dances. Genesis marks his first major group work.
“I came with an idea, but no material or steps,” he said. Mañé’s concept is based on the 1939 Spanish Civil War and the experiences of people who were exiled from the country in its aftermath. The piece is inspired, in part, by a conversation with his grandmother about the war, but it’s not a literal narrative. Instead he’s creating a piece about “the feeling of leaving things behind and all the feelings of that period: fear, sadness and strength.”
Eipper, Mañé and Tindall were selected from a pool of 46 applicants, and from these three finalists a panel of judges will select a winner. Additionally, audience members vote on the Audience Choice Award, with the winner receiving a cash prize. The model frees up choreographers from the pressure of worrying about the box office – being totally supported by the Milwaukee Ballet – affording them the opportunity to take risks.
“It’s a fantastic choreographic platform,” said Tindall, an established choreographer in the U.K. who jumped at the chance to make his first work for an American company. Of the three, Tindall’s work is most steeped in classical technique, while Eipper and Mañé’s works are more contemporary.
“It’s a really good way to test people out on your company and to see how that working relationship is. But at the same time, you are completely going into it blind. That’s a really hard ask, not necessarily knowing your tools, or picking your tools either. It’s a really interesting challenge.”
A mile up Water St. catch Torch & Glamour at the Danceworks Studio Theatre from Feb. 9-16. Danceworks Performance Company (DPC) is all about keeping it fresh, and with Torch & Glamour, the show will be different every night.
The cabaret-style evening strings together vignettes about love and attachment – from bad dates to dodgeball and everything in between. But the improvisational nature of several scenes means even the cast won’t know what they’re doing… until they’re doing it. And it’s this kind of on-your-toes atmosphere that artistic director Dani Kuepper likes to create, not only in individual shows, but across all of the company’s programming.
“The concept [for Torch & Glamour] is consistent in its inconsistency,” said Kuepper, who in addition to running the company and collaborating with actor and comedian Andréa Moser on Torch & Glamour, is also using her musical theater background by singing, acting and dancing in the show. “It is really important to me that all of our seasons reflect variety,” she said, adding, “Most people give us positive feedback about that eclecticism.”
What Torch & Glamour does, with quirky sass and about a billion props and costume pieces, is allow all of us – the performers included – to not take ourselves so seriously and to sit back, relax and enjoy not only our successes in love, lust and life, but also our hilarious failures.
Meanwhile, Menomonee Valley’s The Warehouse (1635 W. St. Paul), is getting ready to swap out the space’s inaugural exhibit from owners Jan Serr and John Shannon’s private collection to prepare for Making/Unmaking, the latest site-specific work from Wild Space Dance Company and artistic director Debra Loewen.
Though the gallery space will be relatively bare for performances, which run Feb. 21-24, Loewen has been inspired by ideas from the current show called Concentrations, curated by Laura Sims Peck. Concentrations is divided into disciplines such as photography of children, monotypes and contemporary crafts.
What has most intrigued Loewen is the idea of task in the artistic process: what does it look like to create something, mess it up, and create it again? Can movement have the same effect as pen on paper, or a paint brush washing bright color across a canvas?
As per tradition, Wild Space audiences will likely be invited to move in the space, changing their perspective of this bright, white slate throughout the evening, as one might while wandering through an art exhibit.