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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 33.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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UW professors begin dance season with challenging works
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Kate Corby: 'Yoke'
Kate Corby: 'Yoke'
Credit:Dan Merlo

If the dance-tainment that prevails this season seems too safe, take a ride on the edgy side with "Causeway" (Oct. 1-3, UW Lathrop Hall), the first concert in the UW Dance Program's fall lineup. The show unveils two new Madison-based professional companies, both directed by UW dance profs hired last year - Chris Walker (who's also artistic director of the Office of Multicultural Arts' First Wave initiative) and Kate Corby.

Corby comes from Chicago, where she's a founding director of LIVE ANIMALS Performance Collective. I haven't yet seen much of her work, which she describes as episodic dance theater dealing in dark content from the psychoanalytical realm. Her structures are dreamlike rather than narrative; she favors ambient scores.

On video I saw "Yoke," a solo she set on herself in '07 that's reprised this weekend. She's bare-breasted and hoop-skirted, feet anchored in place; her upper body rebounds with nervous impulses like a familiar, mesmerizing nightmare.

"I've had a hard time showing that piece, even in Chicago," she says. "I have a backup plan if I need it. But I don't see anything sexual about nudity in dance. Immediately, the body becomes abstract. Nudity in performance lets the audience look at the human form in a new way. I hope viewers can just absorb it for what it is."

While "Yoke" is spatially contained, "Always in April," a duet for two women, shows a very dancey side of Corby's id-investigating choreography.

Walker's known for the tradition-based Afro-Caribbean works he sets on his students. In "Causeway" he gets a chance to stretch out and show his chops as a contemporary choreographer/dancer grounded in modern dance. There's no rumba in "Reflections," a solo by National Dance Theater Company of Jamaica principal Arsenio Andrade. The 2004 work, made for and on Walker, brings out his inner primeval creature - all rippling hips with arms like wings.

Jamaican contemporary dancer/choreographer Neila Ebanks' dance "In Honour of Locks With Keys and Coupons to My Heart" takes Walker in a different direction. "Neila was born with her legs rotated inward," he explains. "Her parents made her dance to correct the problem. She made this solo for herself, to return to that place and make it okay."

Ebanks has set the work on various bodies, but Walker's the first male to take the role. He can't obliterate the sinewy style revealed in "Reflections," but in Ebanks' dance he's fully human - a man struggling to conquer deformity while wearing a skirt.

"Spin," an African diaspora work for Walker's new NuMoRune Collaborative, co-choreographed with former Garth Fagan Dance soloist Guy Thorne, features Jamaican dancers Walker's been working with for years, plus Chicago popper and breaker James Gavins, a First Wave sophomore.

Corby and Walker premiere a duet commissioned from Carrie Hanson of the Seldoms, a Chicago-based company with a reputation for performing in unusual spaces. "It's a purely anatomical work," Walker says. "It's about the distribution of weight. The partnering's very even - there's a constant shift of dominance."

Hanson's intent is neutral, Corby says. "But I'm not sure it'll be seen that way. It's hard to avoid the narrative context of a small white woman and a tall black man."

But try. Challenge your perceptions. That's what separates art from entertainment.

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