UWM “Winterdances” Left Me Cold
Weak choreography and dancing undercut the impact of concert’s dedication to Trisha Brown.
While the Milwaukee Ballet showcased international choreography talent at “Genesis” this weekend, UW-Milwaukee, too, presented a collection of original work, anchored by the restaging of Trisha Brown’s “Set and Reset” (newly titled “Set and Reset/Reset”). The UWM dance department was one of four universities nationwide to receive a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts allowing for a year-long study and implementation of Trisha Brown Dance Company’s legendary modern dance.
Unfortunately, UWM’s “Winterdances,” performed February 5-8, should have solely been a presentation of this year-long exploration: “Set and Reset/Reset,” re-imagined from its original 1983 premiere, was well done. But the rest of the pieces on the program were for the most part unimaginative and uninspiring.
The opening work, “Green Glass Door,” choreographed by UWM dance professor Luc Vanier, felt almost oppressively haphazard. The students were credited as collaborators for the choreography, which would hopefully explain almost all the choices made for the piece: It felt amateurish, suited better as a failed improv than a finished work of dance.
“Because of Lisbon,” created by UWM dance chair Simone Ferro, was a step up in terms of actual dance occurring, but also fell flat on imagination. Music from DJ Quis B was a compilation of sort-of dated tracks, including Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” and M.I.A’s “Paper Planes.” Seventeen performers appeared during this piece; at times I think all of them shared the stage, none of them in unison, making it feel overwhelmingly disorganized. Adding to the mayhem was a backdrop projecting a video feed, the images a slow-motion tour of nondescript Milwaukee homes. It was noted that Milwaukee’s Washington Park Neighborhood leaders inspired this piece, and the video toured those streets (hence the title as well – Lisbon Ave. runs through that neighborhood).
But it doesn’t matter: authorial intent is all well and good, but it’s secondary to what you’re actually seeing on the stage, and in this case, I saw little that opened my eyes. Liner notes aside, this was at best pretty standard and underwhelming showcase of modern dance.
Next came “Six,” choreographed by UWM dance professor Darci Brown Wutz. Here, finally, was some energy and a clear tone. The dancers (Emily Bartsch, Hannah Drake, Kelsey James, Deanna Lewis, Maggie Seer and Miranda Zielinski) were dressed in all black and moved with a sort of tribal seriousness and urgency, accompanied by music from Afro Celt Sound System. “Six” was impressive if only because the dancers never stopped dancing – constant motion and deft reformations kept the piece moving at a fast but never frantic pace.
Finally Trisha Brown’s shadow filled up the stage, with “Set and Reset/Reset” performed well by the UWM dancers. UWM alumni Dan Schuchart served as rehearsal director and Trisha Brown Dance Co. alumni Melinda Jean Myers worked to restage “Set and Reset.” The result was satisfying and effectively channeled the quirky and unique tone of Brown’s post-modern work.
If I sound tentative, it’s only because I wanted more “oomph” from the dancers. The work’s basic components were all there — the constantly transformative shape of the piece, with dancers exiting stage left and reappearing stage right moments later, the strange lifts and perfectly timed catches, with arms used as subtle propelling agents — but the actual dancing in this piece left something to be desired. No one was really sticking it. It was Trisha Brown, twice removed.
All that said, I commend the UWM dance department for winning its grant and undergoing this intensive study. I would hope they have something more planned in the way of performance – a capstone of sorts for the Trisha Brown project, because certainly that should have been the focus of this year’s Winterdances.