I sometimes leave dance performances thinking: There's nothing new under the sun. But Thursday night, I left Manifold having seen some innovations. This evening of dance from Kate Corby & Dancers features works by Corby and others. Their work, while disparate in results, shares a similar aesthetic. Corby is an assistant professor in the UW-Madison's dance department.
Opening the program at Lathrop Hall's Margaret H'Doubler Performance Space was "Fever Pitch," a collage of movement and sound directed by Dim Sum Dance's Julie Mayo. The movement was contributed by the trio of dancers Anna Goldman, Jessica Wright and Jessie Young. The piece kept me engaged and curious as it vacillated between pedestrian gestures, elaborate face-making, chatting, babbling -- and satisfying dancing. The section in which two dancers scooted forward on the floor like some mythical sea creatures was endlessly watchable.
Each dancer brought a distinct style. Goldman seamlessly shifted from floppy, languid complacency into precision. Young, in a snug gold top that accentuated her supple back and torso, was particularly mesmerizing when she performed a twisting and turning solo. Wright's style is athletic and straightforward, and she was brave as she approached the audience, squishing her lips around.
In Denise Posnak's "Thrust," Erin Kilmurray, Emily Miller, Anna Normann and Michelle Scurlock, wearing electric blue dresses, danced vigorously and aggressively against a red stage. The dancers all tackled the choreography skillfully, but Kilmurray, especially, is an impeccable interpreter of Posnak's style. Compact and purposeful, Kilmurray impressed me with the clarity of her lines, and her crisp musicality responded perfectly to Josh McCay's driving score.
"Passive Voice," a collaboration between Corby and Collette Stewart, is a pas de deux that explores power shifts. Corby and Stewart danced, and they sported abbreviated olive coveralls, leaving their pale legs bare and showcasing their beautifully articulated legs and feet. Initially Corby observed Stewart. Then the two came together in movement. Stewart talked about hypnotizing Corby and manipulated her face and body. The two repeated a sequence of steps from before, this time more aggressively. Corby requested a spotlight which Stewart attempted to steal. The two vied for control of the performance space and the glow of the spotlight.
"Brute," Corby's wrenching solo for Emily Miller, premiered. It was at times so ugly that it became gorgeous. Miller, in a pale and tattered dress, was surrounded by a ring of red fabric. She began an exhausting exploration of her circle, swirling off balance and then collapsing on the floor. Looking broken, she was totally still until a few fingers begin to twitch. She then arched her back and tilted her pelvis. It was a stark sight. Suddenly Miller slid forward on her belly, pushing the fabric out, creating messy heaps. She continued until the circle was destroyed. It was startling. Corby's program notes reference genocide and violence, and "Brute" is indeed brutal.
David Parker's "Show Business" was the weakest link in the program, but still entertaining. Denise Posnak, in a distressed blue pageant dress, cavorted to an a capella, but still bombastic, Ethel Merman singing "There's No Business Like Show Business." Parker underscored the plucky, show-must-go-on lyrics, but sometimes the humor felt a bit forced.
The same quartet of dancers from "Thrust" performed in Corby's Midwest premier of "Feeling Into," her examination of empathy. The dancers were dressed in Maggie Dianovsky's interesting costumes, which made me think of the Greek goddess Athena's garb as reimagined by a minimalist fashion designer.
Ryan Smith's spooky score at first sounded like ethereal music to accompany a documentary about space travel; then a plinky toy piano sound added a more playful element. The four dancers moved together like a graceful herd of deer, first slicing through space with sharp arms and gentle, swirling legs. They peppered these movements with prancing hops. Then they stopped moving and stepped forward to the audience, alternating between bored distraction (actually picking at fingernails and so on) and convulsions. They retreated warily, only to come back at the audience with combative expressions. They began to laugh, which was unsettling. After falling on the floor in hysterics they splintered off into duos, moving together again.