Tom Strini
Gerald Casel

Dislocated dancing

Gerald Casel, visiting professor of dance at UWM, gets intense about disorientation. Concert opens Thursday.

By - May 16th, 2012 01:25 pm

Steven Moses and Christina Briggs Winslow rehearse Gerald Casel’s “Dwelling.” Julie Wolterstorff photo.

“I don’t think I could have made this dance in New York,” said Gerald Casel, during a break in rehearsal of his Dwelling, to premiere Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Casel meant that his soon-to-conclude stay as visiting professor at UWM gave him the time and studio space to work with four local dancers on this very dense 35-minute work. Also, if Casel were extending his 23-year stay in New York, he wouldn’t have felt a need to create Dwelling in the first place.

The dance, he said, is about dislocation. Makes sense. Casel was born in the Phillipines, grew up in the San Francisco area, went to Juilliard and had a long New York career in the companies of Michael Clark, Stephen Petronio and Lar Lubovitch, and then with his own Geraldcaseldance. In 2005, he started commuting to Milwaukee to work on his MFA in dance, completed in 2007. He spent 2010-11 teaching in Germany, 2011-12 teaching at UWM, and in the fall he will join the dance faculty at California State University-Long Beach.

So home is… where, exactly?

Dwelling, for me personally, is about the disorientation of New York, Germany and the Midwest,” Casel said.

Casel gets at this alienation via structure and process rather than narrative and acting. He generated material material, for example, by assigning numbers to body parts then running random sequences to determine the movement.

“I keep coaching the dancers: Don’t act. Don’t play a part,” Casel said. “And I wanted to take the self out of the creator role. I wanted to create a sense of disorientation, so that it doesn’t feel organic. Of course, good dancers will make it feel organic. But it won’t come from a comfortable place.”

Likewise the relationship of the dance to the music, created live by Timothy Russell. In the Cage/Cunningham way, the two threads will go their own ways.

The dance proceeds through a series of ensembles, many of them strictly choreographed and loaded with unisons. Intervening solos and some contact-improvisation episodes of partnering tend to be looser and at least partly improvised.

“It’s more set in the first part,” Casel said. “Then I turn them loose a little bit: ‘Here you are, how would you get out of this?'”

All of the dancing is physically taxing and demands advanced technique. And the physical contrariness of the choreography makes the dance feel constantly tense. Casel ramps it up by having Kelly Anderson literally hold her breath as long as she can during an especially grueling solo.

“Anticipation builds when she does that,” Casel said. “She gets me every time. It’s breathtaking.”

That one joke aside, Casel was very serious during the interview, given Monday night.

Dwelling is challenging,” he said. “And it’s intense. I had to make the piece I had to make, and not make it nice or comfortable. I guess I’m not trying to aim at the heart, but I want people to feel something, just not something too specific.

“I also wanted to reveal the dancers and really show their characters, without decoration.”

The dancers are Casel, Steven Moses, Kelly Anderson, Christina Briggs Winslow (also a visiting professor at UWM), and Bridgett Tegen. Anderson, Casel and Stephen Michael LaFond will also perform Casel’s Squared Away, from 2005. Iain Banks designed the lighting and Eleanor Cotey designed the costumes. This concert isn’t quite Casel’s Milwaukee farewell; he will contribute to Summerdances, May 31-June 2, and teach the summer intensive for graduate students before moving to California.

Dwelling, bottom line, transcends Casel’s personal history and is as much about humanity’s relation to space as about his geographical predicaments. A hint comes in a reading from Building Dwelling Thinking, a 1951 essay by Martin Heidegger. An even more explicit hint comes when Casel pulls back an curtain and reveals — but that would be telling.

If you want to get in on the surprise, you’ll have to locate yourself in a certain time and place.

Performances: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 17-19, Mitchell Hall 254, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 3203 N. Downer Ave. Suggested Donation $15 General Admission/ $10 Students. Reservations: Email

Display photo on A&C page: Gerald Casel, Sarah Silver photo.

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Categories: A/C Feature 3, Dance

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