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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 67.0° F  Fair
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The UW Dance Program: Good move
The UW Dance Program is looking better and better
Sener's piece was unabashedly modern.
Sener's piece was unabashedly modern.
Credit:Al Goldis

The Spring Concert last weekend in Lathrop Hall's Margaret H'Doubler Performance Space continued the UW Dance Program's recent trend toward stronger offerings. For the most part, the mostly student dancers looked good. The seven premieres on the bill were substantial, the choreography wide-ranging.

Karen McShane-Hellenbrand's "GIANT city ache" was artful and fun. This relentlessly allegro ode to cities that never sleep featured eight dancers cavorting with remote-controlled, poppy little skyscrapers like Red Grooms sculptures on wheels. Claude Heintz's inspired lighting set this scene by night, day and thunderstorms, to Joseph Koykkar's appropriately jazz-tinged score.

In Jin-Wen Yu's "The Dreamer Who Saw the Flowers of Winter," a slipper ballet set to Schubert lieder, eight women in somber brown skirts moved through space in shifting groups. The timing caught my eye - they danced through the music here, on count there. Occasional atypical moves punched through the classical vocabulary. The choreography was brave, though technically challenging for some of the dancers.

The up-tempo "Tipping Point" by Alan Sener, former Louis Falco principal and chair of the University of Iowa Dance Department, offered an unabashedly modern contrast to Yu's ballet. Dancers in mathematically shifting configurations tossed off turns, falls and jumps. Long sequences were framed in a pantomime of containment, dancers teetering on relevé at the edge of a cliff or palming imaginary glass barriers à la Marcel Marceau. In a punchline finish the dancers stood at the edge of the stage, poised to leap into the void - then the house went dark.

Like "Tipping Point," Maureen Janson's "Catch and Release" was a metaphor for life with hints of humor. Janson's was very short, a dancey pas de deux based on action/reaction and shifting proximities in space.

"Watching Watching," by distinguished postmodern choreographer Bebe Miller for Li Chiao Ping's "Women Dancing" series, pitted Li in a duet with a video loop of herself doing the same piece. This game of dancing with the past was played with angular, mostly frontal-plane moves. The concept worked - I found myself playing along, waiting on edge for odd moments when the two figures were in synch.

Chris Walker, artistic director of the UW's new First Wave hip-hop ensemble, offered "Tenki Sah," a solo from a different end of the spectrum. In this dance to the spirits, set to a suite of beats by African and Jamaican drum masters, Walker undulated, spun; thumped his chest, reveled in his prowess; jumped, arms flying out, back arched. Pulled offstage by mysterious forces, he returned. He bowed, no smile, then touched his heart.

In Walker's "Of Lapas, Skirts and Leggings," choreographed for his African Performance 277 class, dancers and live drummers poured soul into an anthology of jubilant rumbas. Much more than in Walker's similar works last season, the level of performance in this very multicultural corps conveyed an anthropological truth. There's no such thing as "race." In the end we're all descended from Mitochondrial Eve.

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