Tom Strini

Danceworks gets physical and brainy in Bay View

By - Apr 28th, 2011 11:02 pm

Danceworks at Sweetwater Organics; rehearsal photo by Nickolas Nikolic for TCD.

Thursday night, Danceworks unveiled its most intellectually ambitious and rigorous piece ever.

Usually, the Danceworks Performance Company makes its points through quirky, often jokey theatricality. Not this time. The nine dancers remain placidly aloof throughout the 45-minute Stone Soup. They inhabit a dancerly world, a heavenly place of pure form and motion that Balanchine would recognize immediately, even with the sturdy shoes and the concrete floor of a factory space at Sweetwater Organics in Bay View.

Usually, Danceworkers are pals of the audience. In the world of Stone Soup, they are better than we are; they exist on a higher plane. And we love them for it.

Artistic director Dani Kuepper assembled the piece from steps and phrases devised by the dancers. Those phrases, without exception, are striking. The willowy Kim Johnson-Rockafellow opens with a sort of traveling arabesque, with undulating, dying-swan arms extended in front of her. Later in the piece, we see the exact opposite of the undulation, as the forceful and brilliant Christal Wagner introduces ramrod straight carriage, staccato steps on demi-pointe with sharply raised knees, and arms that tick-tick-tick around the body like the hands of a watch. A meditative motif involves turned-out, bowed legs, rounded arms and hands shaped as if to carry a fragile orb. These indelible figures, like every other element of Stone Soup, recur in various forms and are subject to elegant, legible development.

The dance has several more such elements, too many to describe here; let’s just say that all of them are potent and highly original. Kuepper introduces them slyly, often in an atomized way that seems a little chaotic. But those atoms gradually form into molecules and the molecules into compounds and the compounds into systems. The intellectual thrill of this dance lies in the way the mind races along with it and delights in structures that assemble themselves. Imagine a pile of building materials magically dancing themselves into the form of a fabulous house, of a sort you’ve never seen before. Stone Soup is like that.

This dance is brainy fun, but not only that. These steps make beautiful bodies even more beautiful as they stretch, extend, twist and turn to show every gorgeous facet. The speed and power of the dancing overwhelms as the Stone Soup builds to its two great climaxes. Only at the greatest of the two do all nine dancers fall into unison, and when they do they’re engaged in huge, wheeling steps that put the dance over the top.

The dancing becomes very fast and dense at times, but never confusing. The dancers define every move so clearly and Kuepper arranges the geometry so neatly that you can take in everything at once.

Seth Warren-Crow created a musical framework of interest in its own right. The music, played by Warren-Crow, Sean Behling, David Collins and Jeff Klatt, advances through episodes of amorphous drift and driving rhythm to give Kuepper just what she needed to both heat things up and calm them down, to both drive ahead and drift. Lighting wizard Jan Kellogg outdid herself; with very few fixtures, she gave the bodies substance in space, cast a magical mood, and created a fascinating shadow play.

The fabulous dancers are those mentioned above plus Kelly Anderson, Melissa Anderson, Karly Biertzer, Simon Eichinger, Holly Keskey, Liz Hildebrandt Tesch and guest artist Andrew Zanoni.  Stone Soup runs at  Sweet Water Organics, 2151 S. Robinson Ave., Bay View, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday (May 1). Tours of Sweetwater — a very interesting place — begin at 6:45 and 7 each night. Tickets are $25 and $20, $15 for students. Visit the Danceworks website or call 414 277-8480 ext. 6025.

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