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Sunday, November 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
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New talent shines in UW Dance Department's Latitudes
The department is attracting and developing gifted students.
The department is attracting and developing gifted students.

Some of my favorite UW dance majors have graduated or are poised to do so soon. Latitudes, the UW Dance Department faculty concert, proves that the department is attracting talented new students and developing the talents of ones I've seen before. The concert opened Thursday in Lathrop Hall's H'Doubler Performance Space and runs through Sunday.

The program opens with Kate Corby's "Sojourn." Dancers in street clothes loop around the stage in a jog, punctuating their movement with pedestrian gestures, like the flip of a wrist. In one mesmerizing sequence, dancers cross the stage with a simple back-and-forth glide of bent arms; they dip onto a knee, then smoothly rise. In a segment that's a departure from the rest of the piece, Tess Kuether and Petra Weith break out of their lineal grooves and become more expansive and broad in their carriage, imbuing their steps with delicacy.

Karen McShane-Hellenbrand's "Veneer" suffers from unfortunate costuming and makeup that try too hard to be edgy, but the choreography is good. Phrases linger, as when the dancers lie face down, languidly rolling their pelvises back and forth, then kicking up their feet like children in a tantrum. Alison Leonard is particularly good, set apart from the others by her costume, finesse and commitment. Percussionist Kyle Traska is attentive, creating a clear give and take between dancers and musician.

"Village," from Marlene Skog, is sexy and strong, and musician and composer Carol Carlson is an ideal collaborator. Shoshana Moyer caught my eye early in her time at UW, because she has a natural facility for dance with long, clean lines. She has developed into an even more compelling dancer, with an impressive bag of tricks and a self-assured presence. New to me is Flora Hyoin Kim, blessed with sky-high extensions and steely determination.

Chris Walker's poignant, sensitive "Dadio" explores the fracturing of a family after an infidelity. As the matriarch done wrong, Weith brings to mind the stately and regal Martha Graham dancers of her company's early years. As the patriarch, Holmes is seduced by a series of beauties, most strikingly Elena Santiago, with her sultry looks, sound technique and unforced sensuality. The "children" skitter and hopscotch across the stage, evading the reality of their parents' divide. At one point, Weith wraps herself around Holmes' legs, and he drags her across the stage as the others form a chain of bodies behind her.

"Whispering of Wings," from Li Chiao-Ping, is buoyant and hopeful. It's accompanied by a lovely, mournful cello part played by Patrick Reinholz, who composed the music. There is much to admire: the dancers make Li's difficult floor work, her changes in dynamics and directions, look easy; Moyer and Janelle Bentley partner wonderfully, as do Meredith Weissert and Joey Gallagher; the ending startles, making the audience gasp.

Collette Stewart reveals a playful side in "Catch and Release," which is cute but not cloying. The aural backdrop is spoken words recorded by the dancers as they reflect on their childhoods, as well as Michael Hearst's Songs for Ice Cream Trucks. The dancers explore the dynamics of early friendships, so often quixotic and fleeting.

Guest artist Guy Thorne's "Selah" exudes a funky exuberance, and the young cast lets loose in a sincere way - thankfully, since there is nothing worse than performers feigning an artificial "getting down and dirty" vibe. Kim leads the charge, impressing me with her insatiable appetite for space. She is petite, but she is an indelible presence.

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