Nine student dancers in uniform navy bodysuits lay face down on the Marley vinyl floor, pounding their fists and bobbing their heads in unison.
What unfolds is UW-Madison alumna and guest artist Taryn Vander Hoop’s “Fever Pitch,” a masterful work that examines the uniquely modern tension between homogeneity and freedom. The piece is reason enough to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dance Department’s Fall 2023 Faculty Concert in Lathrop Hall.
The evening includes a total of five works, all from professors and performed by students, which give different impressions of what it means to be in a group. Performances continue 17.-18. November and 30 November-Dec. 2.
A mechanical noise opens the show and stage lights reveal a dancer behind the wheel of a child-sized black Range Rover. The playful nature of its presence is juxtaposed with the serious demeanor of the other four dancers performing on stage. A faint cityscape is projected behind them as they interact (or not) with the car and each other.
The same dancer drives it around to different locations, only to leave it again. Neutral costumes of white, black and gray contribute to a subdued aesthetic of Karen McShane-Hellebrand’s “Triumph is in the Persistence”.
The fourth wall is lifted in Kate Corby’s “Subject to Chance (an experiment)” when the four dancers perform pre-rehearsal talk in front of the stage before recruiting the audience to roll giant inflatable dice that will determine which version of a pre – set list of lights, music and costumes will accompany their performance.
The play descends into formalism as soon as such elements are in place, and the ensuing dance is measured, solemn and rote. Three folding chairs become part of the ensemble. What results is a dance that offers the element of chance without the element of risk.
Jin-Wen Yu’s piece “In This World” features virtuous dance and a rich landscape of movement. Flowing two-piece teal costumes extend every sweeping movement of the dancers to create an image of water. Three distinct sections delineate a shift in focus from group synergy to individual singularity as dancers disappear and emerge wearing unique shirts and then unique bottoms, presumably from their own closets. The moment Evelyn Henriksen and Emma Miquelon burst from stage right, each hopping on one leg with the other outstretched before collapsing to the ground, was electric.
After a break, we are confronted with the biggest group of the evening, all dressed in black and white tones to Liz Sexe’s “Parallax”. Their movements are frenetic and repetitive, creating a moving image of anxiety and stability personified.
Most powerful is a formation along the diagonal of the stage, with dancers staggered and facing each other as they move intensely and intrusively through the same sequences of gestures. So what did they eat?
The final piece of the evening by Vander Hoop is a shining example of the unique power of dance to embody and excavate an idea. Technology, conformity, passion, oppression, catharsis, melancholy and joy are all ingredients in the cocktail of her carefully constructed and relentlessly executed work.
While the entire ensemble is compelling, individually and collectively, Blair Odders’ stage presence is unique in its intensity. The piece, made during Vander Hoop’s three-week residency, feels like a rare moment when the Venn diagram of choreographer, performers, time and place converges to produce deeply urgent and eye-catching work. I am grateful to have witnessed it.
Choreographer Miguel Gutierrez said, “the easiest way to notice the difference between people is to make them do the same.” This concert is a rich opportunity to observe such a phenomenon.
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