Works spanning 50 years, many buried for decades without any public performance, will be presented by the highly personable and sophisticated dancers of the UW Chamber Dance Company.
Here in the 21st century, the use of choreography to express social protest can feel practically de rigueur. Yet its historical beginnings really have just one public face: Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), whose “barefoot revolution” marks the dance world’s first major protest act.
Next week, the University of Washington Chamber Dance Company will dramatically expand public awareness of 20th-century choreographers who carved a place for social change and awareness on the American dance stage. Works spanning 50 years, many buried for decades without any public performance, will be presented by the highly personable and sophisticated dancers of the UW’s masters program for transitioning professional dancers. It’s a great meeting of minds to have these highly experienced performers step into roles from complicated eras past.
Late choreographer Jane Dudley and her work in the New Dance Group, a gathering of idealistic choreographers in 1930s Manhattan, formed the centerpiece of the program for Chamber Dance company director Hannah Wiley. She calls “Harmonica Breakdown,” Dudley’s three-minute piece about a struggling, Depression-era woman, “the most beautiful solo I have ever seen.”
Wiley’s an aesthete always, so none of the works on the program features anything less than exquisite movement and organization. The spine of the concert includes five short, concentrated pieces (all solos or duets) created between 1938-1959 by New Dance Group members/ associates Dudley, Eve Gentry, Donald McKayle, Daniel Nagrin and Joseph Gifford. Two antithetical group pieces open and close the evening. From 1936, Charles Weidman’s “Lynchtown” paints a searing portrait of mass hysteria, and “D-Man in the Waters” by Bill T. Jones, from 1989, is Jones’ tour-de-force ensemble work inspired by the sustaining joy of late Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane and Company member Demian Acquavella during his battle with AIDS.