Tom Strini

Joelle Worm, Danceworks and Serendipity

Danceworks' newest member comes home to Milwaukee after years in NYC. Worm figures in the upcoming "Serendipity."

By - Jan 31st, 2013 04:00 am

Joelle Worm. Photos by James Tomasello.

Imagine living in New York, holding down a full-time day job, dancing in a company, and taking care of your young son at the same time.

Joëlle Worm and her husband, artist and art museum jack-of-all-trades James Tomasello, could handle it — up to a point. When they hit that point, in 2010 — with a second child on the way — they moved back home to their home town, Milwaukee. With the rigors of the birth and a cross-country move, Worm didn’t reconnect with Danceworks until the summer of 2012, when she organized an improvisational DanceLab show.

Now Worm, 33, is a full-fledged member of the Danceworks Performing Company and one of five choreographers contributing to Serendipity, which opens Friday (Feb. 1) at the Danceworks Studio Theater. She works in the Danceworks office, too; on top of everything else she did in New York, Worm got a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College. It’s like an MBA for people who work in nonprofits or government.

joelle-worm-danceworks-tomaselloDanceworks is very much a homecoming for Worm, who took classes there as a teenager. Sarah Wilbur, the company’s first artistic director, inspired her to become a dancer.

Worm also played soccer, participated in gymnastics and more.

“I did everything,” she said. “I have a Jewish mother.”

Now mom’s in a condo and Worm and the handy Tomasello are fixing up and preparing to move into the family’s old East Side Victorian. Worm says that being around family is a comfort and a joy after nine years going it alone in New York. Prior to that, she was in school at the University of Minnesota, where she earned a BFA in dance.

“I had a great experience at Minnesota and love the Twin Cities,” she said. “But I couldn’t see a place in dance for me there. So what did I do? I went to New York – where I could also not dance.”

She and Tomasello went there together, in an arrangement that turned out to be permanent.

“It was great to have James,” she said. She observed many friends fail in the quest for a soul mate. Her theory is that New York attracts driven individuals for whom romance might be well down the list of life goals.

She did the usual New York dancer things: concerts here and there, waiting tables, catering. But everything was a little harder for her, because of the timing. She arrived in September of 2001. We all know what happened then. In 2003, math skills and some good luck landed her a full-time office job at a non-profit educational organization, Arts Connection. Non profits always need people who can work on the financials. She stayed there until she returned to Milwaukee.

A crucial development for her was hooking up with two friends who are passionate about the intellectual, theoretical side of dance.

“I spent many more hours watching dance and discussing it with my friends than I did dancing,” she said. “We went to three or four concerts a weekend for years. We saw everything.”

Worm had always considered herself a dancer, not a choreographer. But an “aha!” moment came in 2004, when she saw an improvisational concert by De Facto Dance.

“I saw them and thought: I want to do that!” she said.

The De Facto people, who came out of the Richard Bull school of highly structured, witty and brainy improvisation, turned out to be eminently approachable. Before long, Worm was rehearsing and dancing with them.

“I loved being a dancer and a creator at the same time,” Worm said. “All dancers improvise, but mainly for themselves. This is very much for the audience.”

Her And you went passing by will be the only improvisation on the DPC Serendipity program, although most of Worm’s colleagues employ improvisation on their way to arriving at set choreography. Passing by, for eight dancers, will change significantly from night to night.

That seems to fit the concert’s theme especially well.

“Improvisation is serendipitous by nature,” Worm said. “The whole thing is a happy accident.”

Concert Schedule: Fridays, Feb. 1 & 8, 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 2 & 9, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, February 3 & 10, 2:30 p.m.; Thursday, February 7, 8:30 p.m.

Tickets to Serendipity are $28 premium, $22 for general admission and $16 for students and seniors. Call the Danceworks Box Office at 414 277-8480, ext. 6025, or visit the Danceworks website. Free parking is available.

The Program:

Emma Draves (Guest Choreographer) • The Violet Hour
Through momentum and weight, Draves plays between the intersection of contemporary and Bharatanatyam dance styles. 

Kim Johnson-Rockafellow (DPC) • Be Here Now
Be Here Now explores the focus, movement quality and spatial pathway of one who is present versus one who is not, asking us to notice missed opportunities for connection.

Dani Kuepper (DPC)  The Disenchantment of Helium
The Disenchantment of Helium is inspired by Vivian Meier’s street photography.

Liz Tesch (DPC)  Oh, and 50 last things
If you could leave your child with one piece of knowledge, reassurance or survival tip for living in this world, what would it be? Tesch posed this question to herself and other parents; her piece explores answers she received.

Joelle Worm (DPC)  And you went passing by (working title)
“And you went passing by” is a choreographic improvisation score that explores the serendipitous way in which we come into contact with others in our lives.

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Dance

0 thoughts on “Joelle Worm, Danceworks and Serendipity”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What a beautiful article. I am glad to learn more about Joelle!

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