Save the Last Dance For Us

Danceworks’ season finale was a kind of party for the company’s dancers, more than for the audience.

By - Apr 25th, 2014 10:09 am
Plugged In. Photo by Dan Bishop.

Plugged In. Photo by Dan Bishop.

For Danceworks’ season finale “Plugged In,” we were to expect a fun, dance-club-inspired good time. Unfortunately, the delivery was haphazard and odd. Although there were shining moments, for the most part “Plugged In” lacked the electricity promised by the title.

At Danceworks’ last performance, “Temptation’s Snare”, we were introduced to the talents of Jason Powell – lyricist, musician, and all-around entertainer. When I saw his name all over the Plugged In program, my hopes shot up. Temptation’s Snare was quirky, cohesive and creative. I assumed we’d be treated to the same clever surprises.

Instead, Powell’s numbers felt a little like he’d pulled out an old notebook of first draft ideas. They were meant to be parodies of 80’s videos, but missed the mark. Not because the source material was unfamiliar – we were given the gist of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and Devo’s “Whip It,” among others. The issue was both the length of the parodies and how often they were interspersed in the program. Each wasn’t funny or tight enough to bear repeating the chorus more than three times, as he did. Powell would have benefited from editing.

I would add that Powell’s pieces didn’t benefit from much dancing. Had our eyes been distracted and suitably entertained, things would’ve felt like they were moving much quicker. For most of those numbers, dancers would make unremarkable gestures, go nowhere, perhaps put on some theatrical faces. The evening dragged – 16 small performances make up “Plugged In,” not so much blending as simply stacking up.

Some stand-outs are worth praising. “Ocular Sound” featured dancers Melissa Anderson, Alberto Cambra, Kim Johnson, Dani Kuepper, Gina Laurenzi, Christal Wagner, Andrew Zanoni and Liz Zastrow. The dancers never stopped moving, weaving between each other, shuffling their feet, slow-rolling their bodies, and jumping pogo-stick style across the stage. Something about it called to mind the Peanuts characters dancing, or the herky-jerky animation of an arcade game. For the most part the dancers remained in their own space, narrowly avoiding each other – making any interaction between then particularly elegant and captivating.

“Retire to Other Latitudes,” a solo piece choreographed and performed by Andrew Zanoni, provided a much-needed break from the schizophrenia preceding it. Although Zanoni seemed a little spent (rightly so – he and Cambra were impressively athletic in “How You Doin?” moments earlier), he danced deliberately and gracefully to “Overgrown” by James Blake. Matching the song’s soulful crescendos, Zanoni built to slow cartwheels and pretty, cryptic hand gestures. It felt like a nice sigh of relief.

Plugged In. Photo by by Paul Ruffolo.

Plugged In. Photo by by Paul Ruffolo.

I suppose “Newton’s Third” was meant to be the culminating feature of the evening, employing a cast of nine dancers and a live score by Tyrone “DJ BIZZON” Miller. The program lists choreographic “structure” from Joelle Worm – indicating that the dancers were given a general framework, but were otherwise free to create as the music inspired them. The performance was nice, if a bit repetitive. It featured three guest hip-hop dancers (Richard Brasfield, Rasheeda Panniell and Samantha Patrick). All the elements were there for a bright and energetic performance, but the dancers seemed caught in a lackadaisical loop — no one really went for it. I waited to be impressed, and never found the moment.

I suspect Danceworks wanted to have a “hurrah” of a season finale; to have a good time and allow their dancers free reign over the program. But it too often felt like a party where everyone is good friends, and you don’t get any of the inside jokes.

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