It is, he says, "unprecedented for Madison." Jin-Wen Yu is talking about "What Moves Us," and the UW-Madison dance professor is not exaggerating. Indeed, he may be flirting with understatement.
Scheduled for May 28-31, the dance conference and festival combine the biennial World Dance AllianceAmericas General Assembly with an array of public concerts and other performances impressive enough to inspire any dance enthusiast to attempt a grand jeté. Descending on Madison for the weekend are dancers and choreographers from 17 states and 15 nations who will join Madison's leading dance companies in what assembly coordinator Ereck Jarvis calls "a real coup for Madison," by far the smallest city to host the WDAA event. Previous hosts have included New York, Mexico City, Vancouver and Santo Domingo.
The coup is thanks to Jin-Wen Yu, who, in addition to chairing the UW's Dance Program, serves on the WDAA's board. Yu is determined that the program be inclusive, incorporating not only different dance idioms, but also a broad pool of participating dancers and their audience.
"There's a trend in the discipline of dance to shift from an exclusive focus on high art and theater dance to an investigation of contemporary movement practices," Jarvis explains. "In response to that change, we came up with this notion of 'What Moves Us.'"
Choreographers and dancers will demonstrate what moves them during a series of public concerts. Thursday's opening-night lineup features Jazzworks, Jin-Wen Yu Dance, Kanopy and Li Chiao-Ping Dance - four local companies that have never before performed together on one bill. Joining them at Overture Center's Capitol Theater are Chicago's Seldoms, Philadelphia's Subcircle Dance and Taiwan's Bird & Water Dance Ensemble, a company of 15 dancers with physical disabilities or visual impairments. This is the festival's only ticketed event ($10 for general admission).
The weekend's free concerts at UW's Lathrop Hall will feature scores of dancers and choreographers spanning continents and dance idioms alike. Among those on tap: India's Poushali Chatterjee, Chicago's Moving Architects, the University of West Indies Festival Ensemble, YelleB Contemporary Dance and Kenya's Uwezo Mix Dance, a company that integrates dancers with and without disabilities.
Bird & Water Dance Ensemble brings the weekend to a close with a final free concert Sunday, May 31, at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Augmenting the concerts is a series of additional performances and master classes scheduled for the Memorial Union Terrace and Lathrop Hall.
"A lot of dance is social dance, cultural dance," Yu observes. "We are dealing with movement itself, but also how people take a dance into their bodies, the feeling of it for all people, performers and the audience."
How can people prepare themselves to derive the most from the weekend? "Be open to being moved," Jarvis suggests, "and be open to moving in new ways."