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Monday, September 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 70.0° F  Light Rain
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Ode to insanity
Jin-Wen Yu stamps dances with his quirky style
Yu's speciality is harmonic teamwork.
Yu's speciality is harmonic teamwork.

Acclaimed choreographer and UW dance prof Jin-Wen Yu turned out a solid set of seven works in One and Many, his troupe's autumn offering last weekend in Overture's Promenade Hall.

On the bill were a pleasant pair of duets for Yu's two principals, Yun-Chen Liu and Collette Stewart: "Slash" (premiere), which opened the show, and "Impulse of Wind" (from 1998). Both works featured repeating patterns built from Yu's particular vocabulary - run, fly, fall back, somersault, rollover. "Slash," done in warm lights and red-based dance togs, was athletic. I preferred the darker, more lyrical "Impulse." The dancers, eerie under blue light in billowy white Chinese tunics, unfurled white handkerchiefs while they leapt and spun like playing ghosts.

Three group pieces for dancers drawn from the UW Dance Program and the community pool filled out the program. Two, "Replay" (1995) and "Tinge of Awareness" (premiere), were stamped with Yu's quirky, unmistakable style. "Replay," technically a good fit for this group, was an innocent, percussive endurance test filled with handstands, little folk dances and hopscotch games. "Tinge," done with introverted focus and in odd, patchwork costumes, was dull by comparison.

The third group work, "Last Glimpse of Sunset," which premiered in H'Doubler Hall last month at the UW Dance Program Fall Faculty Concert, is purely classical. The choreography's tough for dancers who aren't in full-time ballet training. The piece, for four women in pastel-colored dance dresses, looked startling in the faculty show, where it followed one of Yu's trademark odes to insanity, "Player's Prayer." In One and Many this surprise edge was lost; "Last Glimpse," on the heels of the vigorous "Slash," became simply a nice little allegro moderato slipper ballet for modern dancers.

"Echo," a brand-new Yu madness dance, was one of two standouts in this show. Yu, an arresting dancer, wields utter control and passionate concentration in the service of these anxious works, which always have a social subtext. "Nest," for example, which premiered two seasons back, was a gritty streetscape on the far side of homelessness. In "Echo," Yu, to a rhythmic chorus of aboriginal Taiwanese chants, conjured his Asian ancestors in the schizoid guise of our advanced nuclear age.

Another Yu specialty is harmonic teamwork, which flows like poetry when he's working onstage with dancers like Stewart and Liu. The program's final highlight, "People Say We Are Together," was a case in point. The three immensely musical dancers, in dark, neutral clothes, channeled the notes of Alexander Borodin's String Quartet No. 1, fourth movement. The choreography read like a living score.

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