Dan S. Myers
CTM's "The Wizard of Oz"
All the world’s a stage
Theatrically speaking, 2016 was filled with a variety of bright, creative and innovative performances on stages in Madison and around Dane County. Several productions deserve to be celebrated once more before the ball drops.
It is not an easy task to take a beloved, iconic movie musical and translate it to Overture’s Playhouse stage using a cast filled with children, adults and (of course) an actual dog. But director Brian Cowing did it with aplomb in Children’s Theater of Madison’s The Wizard of Oz. Rather than trying to emulate the movie, he created the production’s own distinctive theatrical magic. With the stellar Delanie Kinney as Dorothy and a lot of imaginative staging, the tornado that transported a little girl from Kansas to Munchkinland also transported audiences, giving them a new and exciting version of a classic. Sarah Streich (the Wicked Witch) and Mark Snowden (the professor/Oz) provided refreshing takes on the villains of the story, who are so often played flat.
Theatre LILA's "Mojo and the Sayso"
At a time when police shootings of unarmed black men dominated the news, Theatre LILA collaborated with Milwaukee’s Bronzeville Arts Ensemble to produce The Mojo and the Sayso, a decades-old play by Aishah Rahman that was disturbingly relevant. The poetic script explores one family’s anger after the death of a son at the hands of the police. The resulting performance was filled with mourning, loss and an aching nostalgia for a happier time as the characters struggled to move forward and make sense of a senseless act. Actors Marvette Knight, Gavin Lawrence, Isáyah Phillips and Wigasi Brant created startling characters, exorcising their demons through movement, song, prayers and ritual. The piece was beautifully realized by director Jessica Lanius.
The season at American Players Theatre this year was simply unbelievable. The first helmed solely by artistic director Brenda DeVita, it was an enchanting mix of traditional classics, new interpretations of old favorites, bold casting choices and modern works. The core company actors and the newcomers who played in the woods in 2016 raised the bar once again. While it’s hard to choose favorites, the overall experience of Eurydice, by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Tyne Rafaeli, was visceral and breathtaking. Ancient myth, modern poetry, extraordinary stagecraft and heartbreaking performances coalesced into one of the most magical and moving pieces of theater I have ever seen. Up the Hill, Brian Mani, Tracy Michelle Arnold, Marcus Truschinski and Casey Hoekstra gave audiences a touching and tragic Death of a Salesman that will be spoken of in reverence for years to come. And to close the season, in Mary’s Wedding Nate Burger and Laura Rook used lyrical words and their own bodies to create whole worlds filled with wild horseback riding, young love, the rural fields of Canada and the grueling battlefields of World War I France. These plays left me counting the days until the summer season begins in 2017.
— Gwendolyn Rice
Gwen Rice collaborates regularly with Theatre LILA as a playwright and publicist, but she had no role in creating The Mojo and the Sayso production.
It’s a good thing I did not know this might be the last time I’d see Juan Carlos Díaz Vélez perform. In April he danced in “Bolero,” which was part of Bloom, an evening of works presented by Kanopy Dance. In his youth, Díaz danced with choreographer Christopher Aponte’s Spokane Ballet and had performed this solo set to Ravel’s “Bolero.” Díaz, an impeccable technician, is always riveting on stage, but this was the best he’s ever been. Had I known he was retiring, I probably would have fallen apart. As it was, the impact of this solo about the demands of ballet gutted me. I wish we could have given him more than a standing ovation in gratitude.
The performance in April by Brazil’s Companhia Urbana de Dança at Overture Center’s Capitol Theater was made up of two lengthy, mesmerizing pieces, Entidades and Na Pista from company founder and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie that combined hip-hop and contemporary dance. I wasn’t reviewing it, so I was able to just let the dancing wash over me. Many of the dancers are from Rio’s favelas (slums) and were street and club dancers prior to joining the company. I couldn’t take my eyes off these talented, athletic dancers.
Maureen Janson Heintz
In October, UW-Madison Dance Department associate professor Kate Corby offered Compass at Lathrop Hall. The program from Kate Corby & Dancers included two long works. “Harbor,” was choreographed by Corby in collaboration with the married-in-real-life performers Ben Law and Chih-Hsein Lin, who are thoroughly charming and distinctive dancers. “Trade Winds” from Chicago’s Hedwig Dances also featured solid dancing from all, especially Zoe Lindner and Alberto Gonzalez.
Liz Sexe was a busy and clever dance matchmaker in 2016. She approached her Madison “dance crushes,” asking them to contribute a duet to her October performance of Two: Exploring Duos at Madison Circus Space. The program read like a who’s who of Madison’s modern dance scene. Sexe danced (and danced well) in all of the pieces, except her own “Wound-Up.” My favorite was “Will the Calm Come After” from Maureen Janson, danced by Sexe and Oliva Rivard, who shares a similar look and physicality.
Looking forward to 2017, I can’t wait for the spring showcase from Performing Ourselves, a nonprofit organization started by Kate Corby that provides movement classes to underserved girls in Madison. Seeing these girls dance provides hope for the future — onstage and off.
— Katie Reiser