New Dancemakers, Winterdances warm up dance scene

The Dance Department’s winter highlights include New Dancemakers: “In The Loop.”

Dance season 2012-13 at the Peck School of the Arts truly is an embarrassment of riches for dance lovers.

To date, Year of the Arts presentations on campus included an African Dance Throwdown/Bantaba! that welcomed students back to campus on Sept. 4. At the end of October, the world premiere of “FALL(ing)” historically joined the efforts of Present Music and the Milwaukee Ballet Company AND the Peck School’s Dance Department.

Off campus, the excitement extended to the Milwaukee Art Museum in November for MAM After Dark: “Movement and New Media Collaborations,” bringing both the Dance and Film departments to MAM for multiple years.

New Dancemakers, which presents senior projects by Dance majors, is always intriguing. Audiences experience what happens when young choreographers collaborate with composers, experiment with multimedia, and interpret literature and poetry. New Dancemakers: “In The Loop” runs Dec. 10-12 and 14-15.

Then, Jan. 24-27, Winterdances features choreography from the fourth New Work Award winner Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, Associate Professor Luc Vanier, Professor and Department Chair Simone Ferro, Lecturer Katie Sopoci Drake and Milwaukee Ballet choreographer Petr Zahradnícek.

New Dancemakers: “In the Loop”

Ferro is artistic director of New Dancemakers and is working closely with Seth Warren-Crow, music director and production coordinator.

“For ‘In The Loop,’ our overall concept is interconnectivity and community on many levels,” says Ferro. One example is the “critical mass” of UWM dance alums in New York City who are joining forces to support each other and produce shows.

“These seniors already are a community,” says Ferro. “They’ve been growing and working together all these years.” But, as choreographers, their ideas for this concert are totally different. Some pieces are very focused on personal interests, some refer to historical periods in music and theater, and some relate to very simple acts such as breathing.

“These are young artists, so they focus on topics that are very close to their hearts – what they cherish,” says Ferro.

Winterdances, Jan. 24-27, features choreography from Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, Luc Vanier, Simone Ferro, Katie Sopoci Drake and Petr Zahradnícek.

As music director, Warren-Crow points out that while the students all have a unique vision, they really have to work together to produce the show. “I’ve found all 17 choreographers to be very supportive of each other, carefully observing each other’s works and giving feedback to their fellow students.”

For the student choreographers, work on their senior projects began in May. The students researched their topic during the summer, and were required to provide research papers with citations, book lists and other sources to help faculty provide feedback before the fall semester began.

“Artists are not artists just nine months of the year,” says Ferro. “We’re training them to have a longer vision for their future. By starting on a December concert before the summer begins, we’re not just establishing the priority of researching for New Dancemakers, but also the priority of being an artist. As artists, the students have to cultivate that discipline and mindset.”

Also setting New Dancemakers apart is the fact that these student choreographers have the opportunity to work with composers and have original compositions written for their dances.

Warren-Crow recruits composers over the summer with an eye to those who have “great collaborative chops.” He provides the dance students with samples of the musicians’ work. He then facilitates the connection between choreographer and composer. “It can be challenging, because we’re talking about people who are learning to collaborate between two different art forms.”

While this is a complex challenge, Ferro sees the whole field of dance becoming more complex. “Research has always been an important component for an artist. But nowadays, it’s become essential that there also be an interdisciplinary component, so we have introduced that into the curriculum as well.

“We need to have a very dynamic approach to what we teach and re-evaluate what we do on a regular basis. This approach has made what we teach bold, multilayered, multidisciplinary – and added that element of community involvement.”

New Dancemakers is presented in the Mitchell Hall Dance Studio, room 254. Performances are at 6 and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday (no performances on Thursday, Dec. 13). There are two programs – A and B. Contact the Peck School of the Arts Box Office, 414-229-4308, for ticket prices and program details. Tickets are available through the box office or online at


For Winterdances, Gutierrez-Garner explores Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” and Vanier choreographs to Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin,” performed by Kamil Tokarski and Music alumna Johanna Schilling. Drake presents “Space Time.” Ferro reconstructs “Magnetic Field,” which was featured at “FALL(ing),” with former Pilobolus company member Edwin Olvera. Zahradnícek’s “Fall to Rise” also was performed for “FALL(ing).”

Vanier, artistic director of Winterdances, points out that there is no overarching theme to the program, but the works have a relevance to the students who will be dancing for the faculty and guest choreographers. For example, “Milwaukee Ballet choreographer Petr Zahradnícek did an excellent job of highlighting the strengths of our student dancers and showed them at their best,” Vanier says. “As a result, our dancers stood up very well when being compared to professional dancers, and we are happy to reprise that for Winterdances.”

Thanks to a generous donor, the Dance Department has had an annual commissioning project open to department alumni (BA, BFA or MFA) for the past four years; the donor recently renewed that pledge for an additional four years. The fourth cycle was awarded to Gutierrez-Garner (’10 MFA), who is based in Oregon. The New Work Award offers a $4,000 commissioning fee to create a new work on Dance majors.

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” is this commissioned premiere. It explores the mystical by embracing the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This beautiful tale chronicles the journey of a fallen angel stranded in a seaport village.

Winterdances is presented in the Mainstage Theatre Jan. 24- 27. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with a preshow talk at
7 p.m. The Sunday performance is at 2 p.m.

Contact the Peck School of the Arts box office, 414-229-4308, for ticket prices. Tickets are available through the box office or online at

More information about both concerts is available at and for Winterdances at