You know you want it…
Most dance companies commemorate anniversaries by restaging favorite repertoire. Danceworks Performance Company (DPC) is different. Artistic director Dani Kuepper thought something old and something — and someone — new would be a more fitting culmination for its 15th anniversary program, which opens Friday. DPC has always supported young and emerging talent.
“Danceworks showed people coming out of college you can do this,” Kuepper said in an interview Friday after a company rehearsal. A leader in Milwaukee’s dance scene, DPC’s openness to the new is part of the reason for its success.
So, DPC’s upcoming Want or Need is an absorbing assemblage of two old pieces and five new ones, all connected to DPC’s growth over the years.
At a rehearsal Friday, the company ran through the show’s larger pieces. Huddling around a laptop in the Danceworks studio theatre, the show’s six female dancers attentively reviewed a sequence from Kuepper’s 2007 “The Gate.”
“The movements should be fragmented,” Kuepper instructed, pointing to the particular qualities of a former DPC dancer. The only holdovers from that original production are Kuepper, associate artistic director Kim Johnson-Rockafellow and Melissa Anderson. The three newer DPC dancers – Holly Keskey, Christal Wagner and Liz Zastrow – observe their predecessors but will inevitably add their own unique qualities to the dance.
A contemplative, delicate dance, the piece’s ensemble sections resemble the sway of wind chimes. It premiered at DPC’s 10th anniversary concert — the last under founding artistic director Sarah Wilbur, who left for her MFA at UCLA.
“That piece represents what I hope this concert is about—how we have all changed in the last five years, 10 years, 15 years, whether a dancer was with Danceworks that whole time or not,” explained Kuepper. “What does that span of time do to you as an individual? How does that change you as a spirit?”
Wilbur, artistic director from 1997 – 2007, flew in from LA several weeks ago to help restage her 2006 “I Before We.”
In the run-through, six female dancers, company member Simon Eichinger, and guest artist Cameron Mathe darted from wall to wall as they careened along unpredictable paths past one another. “This floor is so slippery, how are you doing it in socks?” one dancer asked her colleague. I was told later by Kuepper that the dancers were actually tracing their own initials on the floor.
Wilbur’s dance contrasts this energetic display of individualism with circular, communal, folk-dancing structures. The brilliant juxtaposition explores the idea of being alone in a crowd. Johnson-Rockafellow and Mathe weaved in and out of a beautiful duet, struggling against weight and momentum to hold on to each other. Moving through stark images of isolation and togetherness, dancers shared weight on the floor as they enacted sleeping in a hotel.
Kuepper explained that the evening’s theme – want or need – emerged as a suggestion made several years ago by then-company member Steven Moses, who had been grappling with a piece. “You need a supertopic, like want or need,” he had said to her. She put it in her back pocket until now.
Kuepper’s new “Toc Tic” explores the tension between wants and needs, set against the proverbial ticking clock. Intricate and introspective, the movements are generated from the dancers’ own reflections on their needs and desires.
Watching Friday’s rehearsal, I observed dancers’ outstretched arms and legs mimicking the arms of a clock. Asymmetrical, angular shapes kept them on track as they occasionally verbalized – and sung – wants and needs. Wagner dropped to the floor, her pendulum-like body pulsing against the ground, and then rolled crookedly like a broken clock or perhaps a Salvador Dali pocket watch in The Persistence of Memory.
After the run-through, Kuepper asked the dancers to finish the piece by embodying vulnerability. “Every time you go on stage you’re being vulnerable,” she explained. Echoing the Cheap Trick song Wagner sings in the piece, she told them to have the attitude, “I want you to want me.”
You will want these dancers. They’ve shown us through the years that we need dance in Milwaukee.
Also in the show are four new works by emerging choreographers. All the choreographers are somehow connected to DPC’s past or present – Wagner and Eichinger are current members, Sara Gonsiorowski is the company’s newest member, and guest artist Moses is a former member. “Christal has great inventiveness and musicality. Steven is a great choreographer on the rise,” Kuepper beamed. Johnson-Rockafellow added, “Sarah’s right out of college. And she’s brilliant.”
Want or Need opens Friday, April 27, at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water Street. The full schedule of performances is:
Fridays, April 27 and May 4, 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays, April 28 and May 5, 7:30 p.m.
Sundays, April 29 and May 6, 2:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 3, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets to Want or Need are $25 for reserved, premium seating, $20 for general admission seating, and $15 for students and seniors. For tickets, please call the Danceworks box office at 414 277-8480, ext. 6025, or visit Danceworks’ website. Free parking is available.