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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Mostly Cloudy


A witch has a kid over for dinner in Kanopy's Baba Yaga
Tender youth

The dark, forceful piece is for adults and children.
The dark, forceful piece is for adults and children.
Credit:Jamie Young
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Modern dance meets puppetry in Baba Yaga at Overture Center, Feb. 17-19. It's presented by Madison's Kanopy Dance Company, which is recently enjoying national success. That's thanks in part to new representation by Jody Kaplan & Associates, a New York-based agency that specializes in putting together tours for up-and-coming dance companies.

In September, Kanopy performed at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago. In early January the company appeared in Manhattan, at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.

"It was a whirlwind weekend of performances," says co-artistic director Lisa Thurrell. "There were 30-some companies performing. It was fantastic. We had great feedback."

The goal now is to build on that success, and put together more travel opportunities. "We had some contacts with theater presenters," says Thurrell. "We'll see what comes out of that."

Founded in 1976, Kanopy is one of the resident companies at Overture. Thurrell, a Madison native, took over artistic leadership with Robert Cleary in 1995. She had previously been a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York. Since then they've reinvigorated Kanopy's school and launched countless intriguing new works, including Baba Yaga, which premiered in 2008.

Despite its puppet characters, which make it a good introductory work for children, Thurrell notes that the dark and fanciful dance is for adults as well.

In traditional Russian tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag who lives in a hut atop a pair of dancing chicken legs. Her fence is made of bones and skulls. A girl, Vasilissa, is sent by her nasty stepsisters on an errand to Baba Yaga, and is captured for the witch's meal. To win her freedom, Vasilissa must perform three impossible tasks.

The witch's hut is already familiar to fans of classical music; it inspired a movement in Mussorgsky's 1874 suite "Pictures at an Exhibition," later adapted by Ravel. (Baba Yaga is also a Dungeons and Dragons figure.)

Saturday attendees can learn more about the story by attending a free talk led by Jennifer Ryan Tishler, associate director of the UW-Madison Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia, at 6:30 p.m.

Baba Yaga features costumes by David Quinn, and masks, puppets and sets by Heidi Cooper. It's choreographed by Thurrell and Cleary with Kerry Parker, Elise Snyder and Kiro Kopulos.

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