Tom Strini

Danceworks’ “Serendipity,” happy by definition

Just keep dancing. Good things might happen.

By - Feb 1st, 2013 12:59 pm

Joelle Worm and Dani Kuepper in Kim Johnson-Rockafellow’s “Be Here Now.” Mark Frohna photo for Danceworks.

Six new dances, five choreographers, they all turn out well — that’s Serendipity. Danceworks Performance Company’s aptly named program, seen at dress rehearsal Thursday night, charms and engages at every turn.

1. Newcomer Joëlle Worm’s In Passing opened the show. Katharina Abderholden, Melissa Anderson, Christina Briggs-Winslow, Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, Dani Kuepper, Jessie Mae Scibek, Edward Winslow and Liz Zastrow improvised within a dance world governed by courtesy, wit and rules devised by the choreographer.

The dance you see during the run will be 14 minutes long. The wonderful music, drawn from film scores by Zbigniew Preisner, determines duration. Otherwise, this truly improvised piece will differ substantially every night. But I expect it will be just as organized and consistent in tone as it was Thursday. In Passing is no free-for-all. It divides into clear episodes, most of them cued by changes in music, with discernible themes and processes.

The follow-and-vary-the-leader at the outset is the most obvious bit of structure. In Passing becomes more subtle in its ways after that, but remains comprehensible. From simply watching, I deduced such instructions as “scatter on this cue, reassemble on this one”; “keep three (or two or four) dancers in motion in this episode”; “two dancers who pass center during this time must partner for at least 15 seconds”; “follow the speech rhythm of the song”; “now follow the beat.”

Half the fun of watching In Passing is ferreting out the rules. The other half lies in observing the fun the dancers have playing these cooperative dance games, their confidence in their choices, their readiness to support.


Dani Kuepper, in her “Marianne’s Rapture.” Mark Frohna photo for Danceworks.

2. Kuepper, DPC’s artistic director, dashed right back on, quick-changed into lacy tights and a little black dress that make her even more adorable than usual. To Strauss’ Tales from the Vienna Woods, Kuepper played out hilarious scenes of observing and idolizing from afar her object of desire in her solo, Marianne’s Rapture. She waves and strains and shows off some dazzling balletic footwork to get his attention. Doesn’t work, and she flops into comic ennui and despair.

Success comes after she happens upon Cupid’s bow (no prop, just mimed) in the Vienna Woods. It works too well, and she must fight off the groping of her invisible innamorato.

The whole thing is not only hilarious in a Lucille Ball/Lucy Ricardo way, but also beautiful in a dancerly way. Making a dance both funny and beautiful — that’s something.

3. Johnson-Rockafellow’s Be Here Now took us to an ominous world of twitches, spasms and obsessive reaching and grasping for things invisible and out of reach. Kuepper, Worm and Christal Wagner danced as if they were characters in their own inscrutable and vaguely frightening dreams. Though often in tight unison, their focus turned inward, as if they were unaware of one another. Their isolation and distraction were unsettling and fascinating.

Over the course of the dance, to irregular music from several sources, they came to regard one another and interact more. But in the chilling interlocking trio of the final moments, they could have been the cold steel parts of a machine.

4. Guest choreographer Emma Draves, a student of Bharatnatyam, combined elements of that classical Indian form with jazz styles in The Violet Hour, to unlikely music that’s a little bit Middle Eastern and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

Anderson, Johnson-Rockafellow, Christal Wagner and Zastrow, in little black dresses over tights and leotards in shades of violet, danced this technically challenging number with Bollywood verve. Violet Hour is delightfully and unabashedly cheesy in its sexy exoticism, and the dancers struck just the right notes of innocent good humor.

5. Liz Tesch offered the briefest, simplest and most touching dance of the evening, One Last Thing. At first, we heard Rachel Payden, singing in vocalise, from the darkness. When the lights came up, she and Tesch knelt in line, left profiles to the house. By and by, Tesch rose and took up a lovely spiraling dance in place.


Liz Tesch, in her “One Last Thing.” Mark Frohna photo for Danceworks.

Payden traced a circle around her, then settled in at upstage left. Tesch moved downstage right and altered the spiral, to open up like a flower to the audience again and again in the sweetest and most welcoming way. As she did, Payden sang the lyrics to what might be an English or Celtic folk song. The salient line was “Good night, and joy be with you all.”

6. But we weren’t quite ready to say good night. Kuepper put together a finale, The Disenchantment of Helium, with Anderson, Johnson-Rockafellow, Worm, Zastrow, Wagner and Alberto Cambra, all looking chic in reds, grays and blacks.

Here, Kuepper plays out the wry side of lives of quiet desperation. Amid this busy ensemble number, dancers limped along as if on bad hips, peered and squinted as if through failing eyesight, trembled with fear, went wide-eyed open-mouthed with shock.

And through all these trials of life, what did they do? They danced. Beautifully. In the end, they came together in a breathtaking crack-the-whip chain.

The moral of this story? Bad things happens. But if you can just dance through it, serendipity can happen, too.

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 Finale: Christal Wagner, Melissa Anderson, Alberto Cambra, Joelle Worm, Liz Zastrow, Kim Johnson-Rockafellow in Dani Kuepper’s “Disenchantment of Helium.” Mark Frohna photo for Danceworks.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Dance

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