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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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Losing a step
Jin-Wen Yu Dance is a bit off its game
The energy didn't always flow.
The energy didn't always flow.

Jin-Wen Yu Dance marked its 10th anniversary last weekend at Lathrop Hall's Margaret H'Doubler Performance Space. I've seen great Yu conerts, but this wasn't one of them.

Yu can dance like liquid fire. Yun-Chen Liu, long a principal dancer in his company, is blessed with abundant grace and strength. Collette Stewart, who joined the troupe's top rank last year, is a capable, experienced mover, and there's chemistry between these three. The dancers in the company corps are decent. Lighting designer Claude Heintz's eye is ever sharp and artful. But Concert 10 fell flat.

On opening night, the house was packed to the gills with a pleasingly multicultural student crowd, thanks at least in part to the UW Dance Program's close ties with the institution's groundbreaking Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives. Unfortunately, attentive audience members were outflanked by the text-messaging, Juicy Fruit-chomping set.

In "Which One Is Pink (excerpts)," the opener, dancers played with Mylar chips to Pink Floyd's album Dark Side of the Moon. The metalized polyester bits scintillated in Heintz's contemporary-colored light: pale clay blues, faded pinks, yellows, neon red. The choreography consisted of shifting patterns built from Yu's primarily playful signature sequences: spin, kick, lunge, handstand, somersault over your partner's feet. Moods and tempos varied with the selected tunes. "Money" was moderately funky. The faintly lunatic "Eclipse" featured dancers with white helium balloons, not unlike Momix's "Spawning" (on their "best of" bill at Overture Hall earlier this month), though in entirely different context.

There's a lot of repetition in Yu's moves. This works when the energy's flowing, but in long segments, especially on off nights, the effect wears thin. "Pink" premiered at the old Civic Center, in the shocking days following Sept. 11. I thought the piece, done in its entirety, was visually stunning but in need of editing. For this show's abridged version, my verdict's the same.

"Passage," also from 2001, is a girls' game set to Bulgarian folk tunes. It was done by seven apron-clad dancers in Dutch braids who skipped, stomped, somersaulted and tossed stones. But the inward-focused deadpan, so prevalent in postmodern performance, made this quintessentially lighthearted piece look leaden.

"Tracing," the lone premiere on the Concert 10 bill, with visual design by Taiwan University media prof Ting-Yi Lin, featured interesting light and color choices. But the choreography was plain compared to, say, the inspired insanity of Yu's "Inter-views" performances from '05 and '06, or his delightfully light-as-breath "Duet #1" (2004).

"People Say We Are Together," a Yu/Liu/ Stewart pas de trois to Borodin's "String Quartet No. 1," is a masterfully musical work, but the lush harmonics of last winter's premiere were paler in this performance. The trio bowed to house applause, but no company curtain call followed this finale. No flowers, no cheers. The house lights went up; the audience went home.

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