Li Chiao-Ping Dance’s current program, the aptly titled bits ‘n pieces, provides newcomers a robust introduction to Li’s style as a choreographer (I’ve described it in the past as athletic, cerebral and cheeky) or serves as a well-curated collection of important works and favorites, if you’re already familiar.
The program, with more performances Nov. 18 and 19, made me think of that wedding rhyme for brides — there’s something old (Gó, a signature work from 1995), something new (With/In, a work in progress), something borrowed (the foundation for concrete was an earlier solo for Liz Sexe and is now a wrenching and powerful solo for Kimi Evelyn), and something blue (a sleek speedskating suit — really).
Sur La Table has Piper Morgan Hayes and Elisabeth Roskopf surprising the audience again and again with their playfulness and agility as they move on, over and around tables. The tables are initially shrouded with velvety golden fabric which the dancers later use as capes and skirts, striking regal poses that punctuate Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
A new work, WhatNot, You Think, features company members joined by UW student Abbi Stickels, an appealingly crisp dancer who literally inserts herself into a stack of dancers. This piece underscores Li’s affinity for inserting spoken word into scores and I sometimes found myself searching for connections among the seemingly random series of numbers, home construction terms, body parts, and so on, rather than focusing on the dancing in front of me.
With/In, which officially premieres in February 2023 at the Dance Department Faculty Concert, is a highlight and is Li stripped down a bit. Li clearly has no shortage of fresh ideas, but I sometimes wish she would take a less-is-more approach instead of layering so many elements into one piece. Here she does just that, with excellent dancing all around from six UW dance degree students and thoughtful lighting design by Claude Heintz. Chloe Druckrey shines early on in the work, set apart from the other dancers, who are initially in a line behind her before circling her, over and over. Alyssa DiGioia shows a mature elegance and Marissa Stolt has a compelling movement style that made me scribble the words steely, smooth and stealthy in my notes.
Gó, inspired by the Chinese board game of the same name, created a buzz back in the mid-1990s when it was selected to be presented at the American College Dance Association’s gala at Kennedy Center. Rough and tumble (and a bit jaded-looking) in white tutus, black sports bras and clunky black boots, the dancers stomp and race to Henryk Górecki’s driving String Quartet No. 2. Op. 64. Occasionally plopping down, jackknifed on the floor, they send up a gracefully undulating arm like the quintessential dying swan. Later a quintet gathers in an iconic Swan Lake corps de ballet formation, shaking their heads vigorously no, no, no while Piper Morgan Hayes works her quirky magic.
2019’s strange but familiar is a tender pas de deux between Katelyn Altmann and Elisa Hildner (both lovely movers and quite tender with one another) who wear white turtlenecks and stretchy blue jumpers, which they employ to reveal their discomfort; Hildner tugs at the fabric around her neck and Altmann turns out her empty pockets. The two explore the space between and around them, skimming the stage in graceful crab walks or folding themselves into each other, tentatively at first and then more confidently.
Kimi Evelyn, a 2018 UW Dance Department grad, had an indelible stage presence as a student and is now even more commanding. In a frothy white baby doll dress with satin ribbons flouncing over her improbably long and strong legs, she demands the viewer’s attention in the solo concrete which was a collaboration with Li. Evelyn’s bio mentions her mission to help Black girls and women own any space they step into, and she certainly owned the space Thursday night inside the spotlight created by Heintz. She speaks, defining women and blackness, and later fiercely announces with both words and movement that “I will take back everything that has been stripped from me.” The response from the audience indicated we listened, saw her and believed her.
Finally two quirky excerpts from The Knotcracker close out the show. “It’s a Slippery Slope” casts Cassie Last as a sleek speedskater sliding to Aaron Copland’s rousing “Fanfare for the Common Man.” And “eRacers” is a frantic fast-forward through a yoga class, set to Rimsky-Korsakov’s buzzy “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
bits ‘n pieces will be performed again at the UW-Madison’s Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space in Lathrop Hall at 8 p.m. Nov. 18 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 19.