Tom Strini
Gerald Casel Dance

Complex and compelling

Visiting dance professor, near the end of his year at UWM, presents dance of high seriousness.

By - May 17th, 2012 11:52 pm
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Steven Moses catches Gerald Casel in Casel’s “Dwelling.” Julie Wolterstorff photo.

High seriousness without a whiff of pretension held throughout Gerald Casel’s intense dance program Thursday evening, in the intimate Mitchell Hall black box theater at UWM.

Just a hint of wry humor opened Squared Away, a trio from 2005. Amid a backdrop of nocturnal nature sounds, Kelly Anderson slipped into a tent made of white fabric draped over two stepladders. The piece, about 15 minutes long, really began when two helpers came to remove the tent, revealing Anderson’s sleeping form, not too far from the supine forms of Casel and Steven Michael LaFond.

The three commenced an elaborate weave of patterns. In the first half, especially, the two men mirrored each other, and Anderson inserts herself between them, always with a pleasing symmetry as a result. As the dance goes on and the music shifts (excerpts from Nicolas Collins’ It Was A Dark And Stormy Night  and Jim O’Rourke’s Eureka), one dancer or another peals off and leaves the other two to mirror or partner. All the coupling and recoupling, in every possible combination, invites us to read the piece as a woman complicating and to an extent frustrating a homoerotic relationship. But if Casel is portraying such a triangle, he does so in a cool, formal, sublimated way. Squared Away has no acting and no overt eroticism. The relations play out in space and form, as a beautiful, cool, dry abstraction with a hotter, moister subtext.

Casel, Anderson, Christina Briggs-Winslow, Steven Moses and Bridgett Tegen premiered Dwelling, with Tim Russell’s electronic music, which he performed live. In Dwelling, as in Squared Away, Casel choreographs sequences of studied deliberation — now I’m placing my leg here, now this arm goes there, and so. Such passages might be fast or slow, but they always have a sense of specific series of tasks being ticked off a list. These bits contrast with rowdier stretches of more raggedy, tumbling sequences. Taken together, they create a pleasing balance of perceived order and chaos and varied rhythms, too. The task-oriented dancing has a staccato, point-to-point quality that measures time in steady increments. The raggedy bits are more legato and suggest a liquid flow of time.

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Bridgett Tegen, Christina Briggs-Winslow and Kelly Anderson. Julie Wolterstorff photo. Rehearsal shot in practice clothes; in performance, they wear pretty frocks by Eleanor Cotey.

Both dances are intensely physical, and the dancers met Casel’s challenges with avid grace and no fear. They conveyed the shifting, finely shaded impetus of the dance. They understood and clarified both the floor geometry — figure patterns count for a lot in the dances — and the shapes Casel put on their bodies alone and in combination.

Dwelling, like Squared Away, is abstract yet about something. That would be one’s sense of home, more generally of belonging, versus being adrift or alienated. Casel almost makes folk dances of the early parts of the 35-minute Dwelling. Dancers often move in unison in tight formations, sometimes in circles and square, in steady, emphatic steps with peasant connotations. That cohesion breaks down as the dance goes on, until we find Briggs-Winslow lying on her side facing upstage, muttering into a microphone about how she thinks her performance has gone. You can’t get more inward and alienated than that on the stage.

But the dance, like life, goes on. Before long, we realize that something is coming full circle. Combinations we’ve seen earlier return, but with different dancers doing them in difference facings. Order and community re-assert themselves. Things aren’t exactly as they were at the beginning, but you can go home again. But you come home changed by your journey.

Remaining Performances: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 18-19, Mitchell Hall 254, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 3203 N. Downer Ave. Suggested Donation $15 / $10 Students. Reservations: Email geraldcasel@gmail.com.

 

 

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Dance

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