Milwaukee’s dancers, across the board, are more skilled, creative, versatile and resourceful than they were 20 years ago. We can thank the UWM dance department for most of that. They foster a try-anything ethos and impress the importance of thinking as much as moving on their students.
Some leave for New York or elsewhere, but most of them stick around and figure out ways to make a living, keep dancing and making dances. They’re entrepreneurial and hard-working. They now have some structure in the form of Danceworks, a splendid service, studio, performance and outreach organization. The result is that established Milwaukee choreographers, such as Debra Loewen, Elizabeth Johnson, Kelly Anderson and Dani Kuepper, to name a few, can draw from a deep pool of strong, open-minded performers.
The UWM/Danceworks circle complements the Milwaukee Ballet. That company, once aloof from its surroundings, under artistic director Michael Pink, has become more and more connected with the modern-dance with UWM and the modern-dance crowd. The ballet’s Marc Petrocci and Michael Linsemeier, for example, have appeared at Danceworks, and the ballet commissioned a piece from Luc Vanier. Vanier is a tech-savvy member of the UWM Dance Faculty; he is also the husband and frequent dance partner of Elizabeth Johnson, proprietor and the very edgy Your Mother Dances company. (YMD, by the way, will return to action Dec. 17-19 at the UWM Studio Theater. She calls the show In a Black Mood. Perfect for Christmas.)
Highlights of 2010-11 edition of Dance in Milwaukee follow. Click on the links for details and ticket information.
Milwaukee Ballet: Under Michael Pink, MBC jettisoned the star system and made a stronger company top to bottom. He also downplayed the big, traditional classics that were the company’s bread and butter in the past. Instead, Pink has installed his own big narrative works, Dracula, Giselle 1943, an excellent Nutcracker and, most recently and successfully, Peter Pan. I expect his Coppélia (coming May 19-22) will be very clever. Early in his tenure here, Pink staged The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s coming back this season with its more classical title, Esmeralda (Oct. 28-31) I didn’t much like Hunchback, but I’m intrigued; I suspect Pink’s changed more than the name. I’m also interested to see what Pink will do as choreographer of Cabaret at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. I’m most looking forward to the Genesis International Choreographic Competition, a biennial event that is always fascinating as a competition and that has yielded some excellent work.
Danceworks Performance Company: UWM buzzed about Amii LeGendre all summer, while the New Yorker was in town for the graduate program summer intensive. DPC artistic director Dani Kuepper wasted no time in recruiting LeGendre as featured guest on the DPC program of Oct. 1-9. The concert’s theme? Lying. Really? No. Yes. Maybe.
DPC member Kelly Anderson — a free spirit who can play both the wacky comedienne and the smoldering siren — is in charge of DPC’s Vaudeville! show set for Feb. 18-27. Stone Soup, coming April 29-May 1, will continue Danceworks’ occasional practice of integrating ordinary folks into shows along side highly trained dancers.
UWM Dance: I don’t usually tout or review student productions, but collegiate dance is on the cusp. Dancing is by and large a young person’s profession, and UWM students often perform works by important choreographers at a high level. This year’s Winterdances (opening Feb. 3), for example, include a dance by the great Mark Morris, this year’s special subject at UWM, and the late Alwin Nikolais.
Wild Space Dance: Artistic director Debra Loewen, who came to Milwaukee for graduate school in the early 1980s, founded Wild Space in 1986. She has sharpened her vision and mission over the years. To my eye, she entered her golden prime about 10 years ago. Loewen still does stage shows now and then — she’ll end her season in the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Theater in April — but she’s come to specialize in site-specific works in non-traditional spaces, often outdoors. Loewen already opened her season Sept. 9-11 with magical nights at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. Jan. 27-29, she’ll try to wake up the ghosts in the Milwaukee Historical Center building, which began life as a bank more than a century ago.
Alverno Presents: The wide-ranging series at Alverno College has always included out-of-town dance companies and sometimes presented the locals. This year, amid a roster leaning toward jazz and world music, AP will present Company Jant-Bi (Oct. 16), a pan-African music/dance troupe based in Senegal. Apparently, Jant-Bi uses traditional African style as a jumping-off point. On Jan. 28-29, Alver presents Heidi Latsky’s controversial The Gimp Project, with five disabled dancers in a company of 10. Latsky, an alum of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company, has spent a good deal of time in Milwaukee as a guest instructor and choreographer at UWM.
Sharon Lynne Wilson Center: Brookfield’s performing arts center has scored a few dance-import coups in recent years, and this season they’re going straight to the top. The Mark Morris Dance Group will perform there April 9.
No, I didn’t list every single dance event, company or independent performer in this overview. But we at TCD do cover nearly everything that moves in one way or another as the season unfolds. To keep on top of dance and all the arts, visit our A&C page and our events calendar often.