Nine student dancers in uniform navy blue leotards lay facedown on the Marley vinyl floor, banging 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 interrogates 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 by professors and performed by students, which convey different impressions of what it means to be in a group. Performances run from November 17th to 18th and November 30th to December 30th. 2.
A mechanical sound opens the show and stage lights reveal a dancer behind the wheel of a child-sized black Range Rover. The playful nature of his presence is offset by the serious attitude of the other four dancers who appear 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 to different places and then drops it again. Neutral costumes in white, black and gray contribute to a muted aesthetic for Karen McShane-Hellebrand’s Triumph is in the Persistence.
The fourth wall is opened in Kate Corby’s “Subject to Chance (an experiment)” when the four dancers chat in front of the stage before rehearsal before recruiting audience members to roll giant inflatable dice that determine which version of a preliminary experiment is determined. An array of lights, music and costumes will accompany their performance.
Once such elements are present, the piece descends into formalism, and the dance that follows is measured, solemn, and rote. Three folding chairs become part of the ensemble. The result is a dance that offers the element of chance without the element of risk.
Jin-Wen Yu’s piece “In This World” offers virtuoso dance and a rich movement landscape. Flowing two-piece teal costumes extend each dancer’s sweeping movement and create an image of water. Three distinct sections describe a shift in focus from group synergy to individual uniqueness, as dancers disappear and emerge with 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, the other outstretched, before falling to the floor was electric.
After a break, we’re treated to the largest group of the evening, all dressed in black and white tones for Liz Sexe’s “Parallax.” Her movements are frenetic and repetitive, creating a moving image of fear and permanence personified.
Most powerful is a formation along the diagonal of the stage, with the dancers staggered and facing each other as they move attentively and urgently through the same sequences of gestures. What did they eat?
The final piece of the evening by Vander Hoop is a shining example of dance’s unique power 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 tirelessly executed work.
While the entire ensemble is individually and collectively captivating, Blair Odders’ stage presence is unique in its intensity. Created over the course of Vander Hoop’s three-week residency, the piece feels like a rare moment in which the Venn diagram of choreographer, performer, time and place converges to produce a deeply urgent and outstanding work. I’m 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 thing.” This concert is a great opportunity to observe such a phenomenon.
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