Li Chiao-Ping Dance, a Madison-based dance company named after its artistic director and highly acclaimed professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s dance department, presented the first of three performances of “Bits ‘n Pieces” at the H’Doubler Performance Space Thursday night in Lathrop Hall. Two shows remain this weekend.
The evening features nine short dances spanning decades of Li’s career, from her nationally acclaimed “Gó,” performed by the American College Dance Association at the Kennedy Center in 1995, to current works in progress. To experience such a cross-section of a choreographer’s work is a rare pleasure.
The show begins with “Sur La Table,” a playful duet between two energetic dancers, each collaborating with their own literal table. This is followed by a premiere of WhatNot, You Think, a kaleidoscopic dance for four dancers with a soundscape of broken sentences read by Li. Abbi Stickels stands out in her role as a dancer who has to negotiate for her place in the ensemble.
With/In, the ongoing work being shown at the UW Dance Department’s faculty concert in February, feels like a dark and subdued meditation on formalism. I felt like we were crossing the bottom of the ocean. Dancers in weather-beaten grey, black and brown costumes execute clean formations and canons with care, although the piece ends unresolved.
“Gó”, which closes the first act, is reason enough to attend this performance. Six dancers in sports bras, tutus and combat boots work diligently across the stage, militarily loyal to the gender role aesthetic while poking fun at their condition. Part army, part corps de ballet, part group of girlfriends, the ensemble delights by performing Li’s imaginative choreography with charming wit.
Another standout cast is that of Nuts and Bolts, which includes Piper Morgan Hayes, Cassie Last and Elisabeth Roskopf. Dressed in formal red dresses and barefoot, the piece feels like three grown sisters playing in a sandbox of contemporary dance scores. Another pleasure.
One dancer everyone will be talking about is Kimi Evelyn, who performs an intimate solo entitled “Concrete,” collaboratingly reimagined by Li and Evelyn. Illuminated by a single spotlight and dressed in a white baby doll dress, Evelyn’s physical virtuosity and emotional charisma culminate in a powerful proclamation of self and identity. The response from the audience is palpable.
The evening ends with two really goofy tracks from THE KNOTCRACKER, including a solo by Cassie Last, who plays the role of a speed skater in full uniform, and a group track by frantically organized yogis in white buttons and aviator glasses.
In terms of content and form, Li’s work is characterized by dichotomies: formal yet playful, serious yet frivolous, personal yet abstract, structured yet free. I am grateful that there is an evening when all of this, even if it is only in “little bits”, can be shown in full.