As American as…

World Dance Alliance Global Dance Event
Dance Theater Workshop - Bessie Schönberg Theater

Sunday July 18, 2010 C-4

Review by Elizabeth Zimmer (© 2010)

Chris Walker and Guy Thorne photographed by Shomari Montsho

In the middle of North America sits the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a world-class campus that pays admirable attention to dance, having produced some of the earliest pioneers in educational dance (including Margaret H’Doubler and Anna Halprin) and having recently hosted a three-week intensive that sent several pieces to mid-July’s World Dance Alliance Global Dance Event (the current president of the WDA, Jin-Wen Yu, is also the chair of the UW-M dance program). Four faculty members—two of Asian descent, one from the Caribbean, and one native Midwesterner— from the school’s dance department shared the final concert program during the WDA event, which included work by and for their colleagues and friends. Its title, C4, seemed to be twitter-speak for a chance to see dances by four choreographers, but in fact five dance makers were represented, six if you count Chris Walker’s collaborating performer.

Peggy Myo-Young Choy, a Korean-American woman who teaches dance and Asian-American Studies in Madison, offered two works that ran together without interruption, demarcated by a brief silence and a blackout. Her solo for herself was followed by her choreography for a young black dancer, Toni-Renee Johnson. Both pieces were costumed, by Jillian Maslow, in shades of yellow, red and green; in Yelllowwww Matriarch Choy wore a long yellow skirt with a red lining over green, and in split-toe slippers stood pugnaciously while avant-garde jazzy percussion and a reed instrument played. Her focus firmly on the audience, she performed what appeared to be t’ai chi postures, as a human voice chanted. She shed a bolero top and did a back bend, followed by more “push-hands” gestures, leading to the blackout.

When the lights came back up we found ourselves looking at Johnson in Boxher, sitting on a stool in the same upstage space recently vacated by Choy, wearing minimal athletic gear on her very buff body, plus sneakers. She performed a sort of funk dance (the music here melded Fred Ho with Michael Jackson), which included more pugnacious gestures. She seemed to mime dying as the piece drew to a close.

The premiere of Bredrin, Bredrin, Idrin was choreographed and performed by Guy Thorne and Chris Walker. Thorne, a black dancer in trunks and a sleeveless shirt, stood upstage. After a blackout, he was joined by Walker, tall and slim with extremely long dredlocks. Each man had his own circle of light, and then they performed in unison, sometimes balancing each other back to back. Some of the choreography appeared to be traditional African movement. They added shirts with painted African prints, perhaps of birds, and upended themselves, hoisting one another. They appeared to be friends. Both of these limber guys were lovely to watch but I couldn’t discern a form in the material they presented.

Li Chiao-Ping’s Rust/Rise/Rest, a solo commissioned and performed by Ella Rosewood, took place on a futon. Athletic and limber in a white top and shorts, performing to a collage score including music by The Art of Noise, Matmos and Bach, she seemed to be trapped on the soft mat, thudding her body around on it, supporting herself on one limb or another. Was she being tortured by some private demons? Trying to get to sleep? Trying to stop moving? She inched forward on her back. The recorded Bach was static-y; was this the sound track of a dream? We heard chickens, bells, and a list of spoken words repeated: lunchbox, playground, hot dog, ice cream, cowboy. Was this the nightmare of a harassed mother? Was she a jock or a dancer? As more Bach played, she flopped on the futon.

After intermission Jen Stone and Megan Thompson performed Li Chiao-Ping’s 2001 Residues, to music by Daniel Feiler. It seemed to be about the developing of a relationship through physical exploration; the two women, in black tops and pants, clutched their heads and made each other’s acquaintance. The drama was in the music; the actual movement was largely work-a-day, as the pair, both with floppy hair, ran around, hugged each other, and took their time surrendering to the obvious affection they felt. After a while the lights went down and an overhead spot picked the dancers out at center stage; somersaulting and vaulting, they found each other in silence, and one upended the other in an embrace.

Another older work was Cuban choreographer Arsenio Andrade-Calderon’s 2005 solo Reflections, performed by Chris Walker. To a “natural-sounds” score by Ethnico Music, the slim, muscular figure in tan briefs, sat under red light, his head down, his shoulders working, his hands splayed out. He stretched and curved, moving into a headstand. Was he some kind of hunter, explorer, traveler? Was he Adam, the first man? He swung his long dreds about as though they were an extra limb, and writhed on the ground at the edge of a circle of light, while tinkly flute music played, followed by the sound of breaking waves. He sat cross-legged in the red light, repeating his opening sequence of gestures; the piece had a sort of A-B-A structure, and ended where it began.

The program closed with the premiere of Kate Corby’s Feeling Into, performed by Erin Kilmurray, Emily Miller, Anna Normann, and Michelle Scurlock. The four women wore variations on the same not particularly flattering white outfit (by Maggie Dianovsky): camisole tops, skirts (vestigial tutus?) over snug shorts, hair restrained. It took them a long time to get around to doing what I’d identify as “dancing”; mostly they stood around, moved on a diagonal, and seemed to be on the verge of some sort of breakdown or terminal boredom, waiting for something to happen. Was this some kind of line-up? (I kept thinking of an early work by Paul Taylor, in which a line of women in black seemed to be waiting for the phone or the ladies’ room.) One woman seemed to scream silently, others fidgeted, while the droning sound score filled the space. One bit her nails. As a group they mimed fear and chilliness, backed up, hunched over and seemed to be sobbing. Their fists were clenched. Suddenly they were laughing out loud, moving forward and back, leaning on one another. The lights and sound started to fade as the group broke into two couples. The pairs danced a little too carefully. The music started up again: plinking guitar and maybe a flute, as the performers threw themselves around and warily began to actually dance. Then they began to turn, each once again in her own orbit; they stood still in silence as the lights faded.

It’s hard to know what to make of this concert. Was it an effort by Jin-Wen Yu to gain some “New York exposure” for his faculty? All the works seemed more like movement or character studies than like fully developed dances. But the team that produced this weeklong festival at DTW deserves congratulations for running a tight ship; all the shared concerts started right on time and came in at an economical 90 minutes, demonstrating respect for the audience and the participants.