Laughs, Thrills and Terror
It happened Friday night, at Danceworks’ incredible Lights, DPC… Action! program.
All 10 referred in some way to a movie genre, from utterly demented horror to nearly as demented musical comedy. Artistic director Dani Kuepper somehow corralled the wildly diverse offerings into an oddly coherent whole.
The imagination behind these numbers, in terms of conception and movement invention, is astonishing. Melissa Anderson opened the show with nine women decked out it spangled swimsuits. Anderson made a miniature Busby Berkeley number, danced to the brassy Dames from 42nd Street. All the Berkeley tricks — the pinwheels, the bubbles, the big smiles, the sexiness, the circular geometry — were there. But the Danceworks ladies have something Berkeley’s showgirls did not: A sweeping athleticism expressed in runs and jumps and speed afoot. At close range in the little Danceworks studio, the athleticism was overwhelming. And those smiles looked fast-frozen in those old movies; I got the impression that the Danceworkers couldn’t stop smiling, because the dance is so funny and so much fun to do.
They enjoy being girls, and they enjoy it in many ways, from throwing a dinner party in Diana LeMense’s endlessly charming and witty Take a Bite to the steely recruits in the unorthodox military drill of Holly Keskey’s relentlessly intense This Is My Rifle.
Has any woman ever played hard-to-get with the ferocity Kelly Anderson displayed in her own Una Notte en Roma? Stephen Moses tries to pick her up at a sidewalk cafe, to the rhythm of assorted Italian love songs. It’s jab-and-parry, at first, witty and funny. But the sparring ramps up little by little. Moses moves into her space more aggressively, and Anderson eludes his his grasp in ever quicker and more inventive ways. They never fall into tango steps or rhythms, but the thing takes on the combative, thrust-and-dodge quality of an Argentine tango.
Which brings us to the men: Moses, the sole man in the Danceworks Performance Company, and guest artist Simon Eichinger. Both are splendid dancers and highly charismatic, and they added so much possibility to the program. Eichinger surely inspired Anderson’s Secret Agent: Mission Improbable. His sharp, vintage jazz-dance moves exactly articulated the jabbing rhythms of the music from Peter Gunn. He exactly got the 1950s hipster vibe, and was a slick partner for the stunning Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, among others.
Anderson, in Secret Agent, referred to hot jazz and to ’60s go-go, the Swim and the Pony. We saw a good deal of expert period parody, from LeMense and Christal Wagner (in her Walk Like You, Talk Like You, chock full of Lindy-hopping monkeys) picking up on swing to Dani Kuepper messing with the corny stuff of The Sound of Music in her When the Dog Bites.
The parody is affectionate without fail; nothing in this show is bitter or snide, and that is a lovely thing. Lovely also is the laugh-out-loud humor. That is terribly difficult to achieve in dance, but it seems second nature to the Danceworkers, as both creators and performers.
Lot of laughs are in these dances, but the show has some quiet moments and scares, too. Johnson-Rockafellow’s Fuyu Momijii compresses meditative martial arts training. It remains arrestingly calm in its effect even when its four dancers whirl at high speed. Liz Hildebrandt’s Bound. Struggle. Release. takes us into an abstract but ominous world of sudden blackouts and flashes of light. Moses, Karly Biertzer and Hildebrandt bring their bodies to palpable tension and then go suddenly limp; stand absolutely still then thrust suddenly forward; ignore one another entirely and engage intensely. The whole thing crackles with a disquieting, herky-jerky rhythm and energy, like something out of a David Lynch film.
You know those recent horror movies where, through special effects, people seem to change into something not quite human? Where they scuttle backwards with knees and elbows weirdly inverted, and then up a wall, like a cockroach?
Well, Eichinger does something like that live in The Unraveling, a solo in the persona of a psycho-killer out of a horror movie. He conspired with Kuepper in devising his contortionist grotesquerie. A whiff of Nijinsky’s Petrouchka is in it, but the bulk of it is a body engaged in a violent struggle with its soul. This is a supremely creepy dance, and a great dance.
Do not miss Lights, DPC…Action! It runs through this weekend and next weekend. Tickets: $25 and $20, $15 for students and seniors; visit the Danceworks website or call 414-277-8480 ext. 6025.