Tom Strini

Saturday night improv at Danceworks

De Facto Dance, of New York, and a band of locals make it up as they go along.

By - Jul 22nd, 2012 12:36 am
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Left to Right: Joelle Worm, Meg Fry, Jessie Mae Scibek, Kristina Krueger, Erika Hansen, Travon Haase rehearse “Flock & Fowl.” James Tomasello photo.

Joëlle Worm will begin her first season as a member of the Danceworks Performance Company this fall. But she didn’t wait for the leaves to turn to put on a show. Worm danced in New York for nine years. She knew De Facto Dance there, and thought the improvisational company would be a good fit for Danceworks’ summer DanceLab series. De Facto co-founders Kelly Donovan and Meg Fry came to town, Worm rounded up seven more local dancers to work with them, and a show happened Saturday night.

Donovan and Fry come out of the Richard Bull Dance Theatre, which happened to be one of the first companies I got to know well, way back in 1980, when they were in residence at Washington University in St. Louis. Bull was a master of structure; he framed improvisation with rules and restrictions, because winging it almost never works.

Such thinking informed all five dances Saturday. Bull’s Visions, from 1975, ended the program. It’s vexatious in a way that draws a smile: The music is a 45-second Keith Jarrett piece, played 15 consecutive times. That yields 14 (they all held still for one repetition) aphoristic little dances, mostly solos, duos and trios, generally attuned to the lyric gentility of the music. I suspect that Bull wrote some general instruction for each repetition and left it to the dancers to fill in the blanks. They confected one charming and very different response after another. The exception: a pogo-jumping episode that stomped on the music’s sensibility as it referred to a comic episode in a dance that occurred earlier in the evening.

The rules were clearer in some dances than in others. The main rule in Flock & Fowl, for eight dancers directed by Donovan, could not have been more obvious: Follow the leader. This simple rule generated the evening’s most ambitious dance. Donovan claims flocks of birds and marching bands as the impetus for the 20-minute piece, and the dancers alluded to avian and half-time imagery explicitly. You might say they were too often obvious in that and in their relation to the beat and mood of the music (Django Reinhard, Laurie Anderson, John Philip Sousa and more). But the dancers alertly added nuance and individuality that enriched and complicated the whole just enough. I admired their sense of ensemble shape, too, as they formed kaleidoscopically into ever-changing squadrons and flocks.

The process in Three Cubed (Doubled), which Fry directed: Two pairs of dancers are on stage. One partner manipulates the other, then they change roles. Two more dancers enter, to create trios, but at a distance. These new arrivals mimic and vary the moves of the manipulated partner, to show theme and variation at the same time.

Worm directed Dummy Dances (a suite), a puzzle dance to three rock songs. The conceit is that two of any three dancers on stage share a secret that structures their movement. The third is odd woman out. Sometimes, Paula Biasi, Kelly Donovan, Fry, Kristina Krueger or Jessie Mae Scibek seemed just enough behind in ensemble and thus “it” in this game of tag. But I was never quite sure; I couldn’t figure out this one.

The evenings silliest entry was Sell This Room, directed by Fry. Scibek played a real estate agent trying to sell a house to Donovan and Erika Hansen. The rest of the ensemble forms and re-forms into the house and its furnishings. If that sounds like an acting-class exercise, well, that’s how it plays, too. The three featured players improvised the verbal comedy and mostly made it work. Hansen added to the fun by giving Scibek a hard time. “What’s this?” she asked, pointing to some upraised limbs. “That? Oh… that’s a fountain!” Sometimes she likes to dance around in it. Great real-estate selling point, a fountain — made out of people.

By the way, in the 1970s and ’80s, the structured improvisation usually packaged pedestrian movement — stuff anyone could do — as an ascetic moral choice. No one wanted to be a show-off in those days. Not so Saturday. Lots of big, physical dancing cropped up, as four of the five dances unabashedly celebrated the human body. These dancers move very well and took pleasure in moving, and were a pleasure to watch. Also in this fine cast: Lindsey Krygowsky, Tra Von Haase, Carolyn Kennedy.

This program was part of the Danceworks DanceLab series, and the company’s Studio Theater, 1661 N. Water St. Three programs remain. Check them out.

Don’t miss anything! Keep track of Danceworks and all Milwaukee’s performing groups. Bookmark Matthew Reddin’s TCD Guide to the 2012-13 season. Sponsored by the Florentine Opera.


Kelly Donovan and Erika Hansen listen to Jessie Mae Scibek’s real-estate pitch, as Travon Haase, Lindsey Krygowski, Carolyn Kennedy, Paula Biasi, Joelle Worm portray patio furnitures and foliage in “Sell This Room.” James Tomasello photo.





Categories: A/C Feature 1, Dance

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