Danceworks clowns around
Dani Kuepper has made lots of silly dances over the years, but never with the intention of making them for children.
One day, as she was dancing around to amuse her own four — twins aged 18 months, a 5 and a 9 — she realized that she had almost all the material she needed for a whole family concert. Since Potluck, Frogs, Mayhem and even Where the Wild Things Are (after Maurice Sendak) had track records of cracking up adult audiences, this promises to be one kids’ concert that won’t bore parents. The shows will run Friday through Sunday, April 16-18, at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.
“It’s not dumbed down,” Kuepper said. “It’s seriously silly.”
Kuepper, artistic director of the Danceworks Performance Company, joined the group as a dancer-choreographer in 1999, straight out of the BFA program in dance at UW-Milwaukee.
The kids’ concert gives her a good reason to revive Potluck, the very first piece she created for DPC. In the dance, an ensemble of women set a dinner table in a hilariously athletic way. Kuepper made it for DPC’s first collaboration with Kevin Stalheim’s Present Music ensemble. Stalheim assigned the music for each choreographer involved.
“Most of my silly dances came out of Present Music concerts,” Kuepper said. “I blame Kevin. What was I supposed to do with Arnold Schoenberg’s arrangement of Blue Danube?”
Members of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra will play it live at the upcoming DPC concerts.
“Actually, I’m proud of that piece and glad to do it again,” Kuepper said. “When you have a chance to reset a piece you know when the narrative is working and when it’s not.”
Danceworks ensembles have always been all or mostly female and very close-knit. Kuepper has always invented characters around the real characters in the company. Reviving dances with new people inevitably changes things. Kuepper is savoring the difference.
She thought “Frogs,” which involves a lot of amphibian hopping, wouldn’t be the same without the great Sarah Wilbur (now in California) as the swaggering dominant frog. But she’s thrilled with the different dynamic newcomer Holly Keskey brings to the role. In 2006, Korey Olivier brought robust comedy to Max, the boy in Where the Wild Things Are. Olivier has moved on; Steven Moses will dance the role this time around.
“The dance has changed so much, because Steven is so serious,” Kuepper said.
Kuepper will also revive When the Bough Breaks, the part of the evening-length, 2009 Wide Sky program about motherly paranoia. Dancers and volunteers donned all sorts of protective gear before riding tricycles around the stage.
“Any time you wear a helmet and dance, it’s funny,” Kuepper said.
In addition to the revivals, Kuepper is creating a slapstick-filled piece aimed at keeping her own kids awake all the way to the end of the show. She is rounding up volunteer parents and children to participate.
And what amuses kids more than that?
Monsters, Mayhem & Mac ‘n Cheese opens Friday, April 16, at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, 325 W. Walnut Street. 7 p.m. Friday, April 16 (participants’ workshop begins at 6 p.m.); 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 17 (workshops at 2 and 6 p.m.); 1 p.m. Sunday, April 18 (workshop at noon)
Tickets are $25 for reserved, premium seating; $20 for general admission seating; $15 for students and seniors; and $10 for children 12 and under. Call Danceworks, 414-277-8480 ext. 6025.
Monsters, Mayhem & Mac ‘n Cheese will have a second performance weekend at 7 p.m. April 30 and May 1 at the Oconomowoc Arts Center, 641 E. Forest St., Oconomowoc. Call the OAC for tickets, 262-560-3172.
Cast and Credits
Choreographer: Dani Kuepper. Dancers: Kelly Anderson, Melissa Anderson, Karly Biertzer, Liz Hildebrandt, Kin-Johnson-Rockafellow, Holly Keskey, Steven Moses, Christal Wagner, Sarah E. Wolf.
The family workshop fee is $10 for a family of up to four people ages 4 and older; $5 for each additional participant. Space for the workshops is limited and advance registration is required. For tickets or the workshop, please call the Danceworks box office, 414-277-8480 ext. 6025, or log onto the Danceworks website.