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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Overcast
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UW Dance department's summer concert is a global effort

Credit:Jon Green

The UW Dance department's fourth annual Summer Dance Institute is truly an international affair, with instructors and choreographers from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Germany and Australia, and dance students from Australia, Taiwan and the U.S. This three-week institute culminated Friday night in a free performance at Lathrop Hall's cool and comfortable Margaret H'Doubler performance space. For the most part, this cultural cross-pollination yielded great results.

My favorite piece, "ILINIX TO," a premiere from choreographer Leda Muhana, opened the performance and set a high bar. Two dancers stood in front of a stage strewn with articles of clothing. Clad in layers of white, they slowly began to slip into each other's clothes and strip away their layers, while languidly dancing together. Soon other dancers arrived behind them, wearing just black sports bras and briefs. They began to pick up the clothing on the floor and put it on before dancing. Muhana's work is an exciting exploration of dynamics. At times I was mesmerized by the calm, and then -- POW! Dancers would drop to the floor or hurl themselves at another dancer. When I first noticed Scott Ewen, he was being spun on his head by a female dancer, before taking off on a heart-stopping solo. Dressed in street clothes, he looked like an unassuming college student who wandered in off University Avenue, but he surprised me with his abilities and dynamic performance. He was well matched with Jenni Large, who with her wild shock of asymmetrical blonde hair is also a daredevil. The two of them, dancing together perilously but skillfully, made me catch my breath in suspense.

Robert Solomon's "When Motion Talks," set to the music of Massive Attack, sometimes looked a bit dated. But it kept my interest with striking moments, as when Hsin-Fang Lu and Jack Ziesing balanced for an eternity, legs bent, while Ruth Louise and Mary Patterson remained frozen in fourth position, their arms held like they were driving cars. Patterson is one of my favorite dancers at the UW, and I've found that almost any type of movement looks good on her because her technique is solid and her performances are serenely self-assured.

Elizabeth Gillaspy's fascinating solo "Thread" was performed by Laura Barbee, a pale beauty simply dressed in shorts, tank top and thin, flesh-colored socks. Much of the movement centered on Barbee's expressive and flexible back and arms. At first her arms wove behind her back, her hands unfurling in a stream of delicate gestures. Barbee effortlessly executed the challenging choreography.

UW professor Chris Walker's untitled new work had two sections. The first was a solo set to an instrumental version of "Summertime" for Ziesing, who is a precise technician. The second section had Ziesing with a cast of females who came at him, sometimes confrontationally. When Walker's steps were performed by Alyssa Gunsolus, each impressive leg extension and sudden drop into a split looked sexy. Finally, Ziesing partnered with Siang-Ling Liao, and they performed the move that begin his solo, a flexed foot simply fanning out.

"Three by Three" by Kate Corby, also a UW prof, started at a meditative pace, trios of dancers in street clothes backed by what sounded like cicadas. Things picked up when the trios' compositions switched, and the dancers moved diagonally across the stage, towards the audience. Now they were aggressive, their feet smacking each other intentionally. The mood changed to rollicking and raucous as the Kelley Stoltz song "Wave Goodbye" played.

I've admired UW dance department chair Jin-Wen Yu's "Excursion" before, and this new cast does him proud. Bathed in golden light wearing white layers, a trio of dancers (Ewen, Tzu-Jong Liu and Kit Stanley, all excellent) fluidly covered the space of the stage with their gorgeous movement. Liu and Ewen shared a particularly tender bond as they explored shifting weights and boundaries.

The evening closed with "Beyond," an exploration of leaving this mortal coil from Keiko Kitano. It incorporated pixelated photos, an intriguing video of distorted dancers and a Greek chorus of sorts in a quartet of "landscape" dancers. Kitano and her partner Zihao Li were a pleasure to watch. With her long braid whipping around her sinewy frame, Kitano was a deliberate and controlled mover. She used her background in Butoh to impart significance to the stillness. Li's lyricism was evident as he partnered Kitano, and when he was left behind to grieve it was stirring, despite the sometimes heavy-handed overtones (the music was Bobby McFerrin's "Without End," including the 23rd Psalm and Doxology).

All in all the concert was quite good, and it was a free evening of entertainment. This performance was open to the public, as is the second, which is slotted for 2 p.m. today and boasts a completely different program. Some of the work will be performed in New York City later this month, during the upcoming World Dance Alliance Global Dance Event.

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