Danceworks

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Hannah’s Heart to Heart on Art to Art

About nine years ago, Danceworks decided it was time to buy a light board for our productions instead of constantly renting. We offered a “Pay What You Can” series of summer performances to raise the money. The money was raised; we bought the light board and also ended up with an annual summer dance series. This eventually grew into what is now called the Danceworks DanceLAB, which supports the development of new dance works by independent and emerging dance artists.

One of the annual productions on the series is Art to Art, popular since it was first envisioned by Sarah Wilbur in 2004. It encourages something that Danceworks highly values: collaboration. It’s a concert featuring works created by two or more artists in different disciplines. Local choreographers join film, music, theatre and visual artists in this audience favorite.

Hannah Marquardt

Hannah Marquardt

Hannah Marquardt, Danceworks’ customer satisfaction manager, is an artist who, like many of our staff, balances performing and teaching with administrative responsibilities. She has participated in Art to Art since 2007 and shares her thoughts on why she enjoys being a part of it. –Deb Farris

The concept of Art to Art was different than anything else offered at the time. I had always done pieces with music and choreography, and it was great to be encouraged to collaborate with other art forms. I was invited by Ashley (Johnson) Trottier who was collaborating with Bob Watt, a local folk artist with quite a following. Ashley used his paintings as a jumping-off point for the choreography and on the stage for her set design. She also integrated his poetry through spoken word into the piece. A lot of people who came to see Bob’s work got exposed to dance as well.

In 2010, I was one of the choreographers and collaborated with a singer, Susan Wiedmeyer (also a “Danceworker!”). In 2012 and 2013, I’ve been a dancer, working with Catey Ott Thompson as choreographer and Kai Marquardt (my husband, incidentally!) as the collaborating visual artist.

The talkback sessions that are integrated into the development of the work to provide feedback are really valuable. They provide perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise think of. MIAD instructors, UWM faculty, visual artists and directors from local dance companies all attend and offer their perceptions, along with the other choreographers participating in Art to Art. A bond develops between the artists, and you learn by watching the other artists’ pieces develop. It creates excitement about the event. It is inspiring to learn what the process is like for artists of different disciplines. My starting point as a choreographer is very different than artists of another genre. You develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for other disciplines.

The progression of Art to Art over the years has been fulfilling to experience. The pairing of artists from different disciplines always brings an interesting juxtaposition of art forms. And Art to Art’s production elements—film, lighting design—and overall quality of work produced has really developed over the years as well.

Hannah and Catey Ott with Kai's sculpture

Hannah and Catey Ott with Kai’s sculpture

I like the fact that the visual art that is integrated into the piece will be around after the dance performance is finished. My husband Kai, for example, can build something that will be around for years and years. Once I am done with my performance, it’s over. We’re at two ends of the spectrum. Unless you see a dancer’s performance on a video, it lasts only in the viewers’ memory and is left to their own interpretation.

All of the artists and choreographers have put their signatures on each piece. I think it will be the best Art to Art that Danceworks has produced! There’s a little something for everyone


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The Dedicated Kids of DYPC

Faith Halaska, Director of Danceworks Youth Performance Company

Faith Halaska, Director of Danceworks Youth Performance Company

Two years ago, it became apparent to me that Danceworks needed a youth performance company. With more than 2,000 Milwaukee city students completing Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap (MHBT) each year, we had an abundance of talented kids. Amy Brinkman-Sustache had long wanted a youth company to support the development of the students in our studio youth classes.  We found the perfect company director in our faculty, Faith Halaska, and we were off and running.

The audition for Danceworks Youth Performance Company (DYPC) is coming up on July 27, so I sat down with Faith to offer a little more information about the company:

Deb: Why were you interested in directing DYPC?

Faith: Because my greatest joy in life is helping to build up the next generation of artists. I find great reward in training dancers and giving them the experience of performing and being a part of something bigger than themselves.

Deb: What do you see happening to these kids as they get more involved?

Faith: There’s a transformation—not only in their technical ability, but in their self-confidence and self-discipline. I feel like I have the privilege of watching them become who they’re meant to be—not  just as dancers but as individuals.

DYPC performing at Bastilles Days

DYPC performing at Bastilles Days

Deb: Where do the students who audition come from?

Faith:  They come from all over the Milwaukee area and beyond. Some of the kids’ experience comes from dance teams, cheerleading, Hip Hop crews, Milwaukee Ballet, gymnastics and, of course, Danceworks studio classes and programs . The first year we held auditions, about 40% of the students came from MHBT; the second year was about 60%. These are kids who come together with one common goal: they are interested in pursuing the art of dance in a more intense training environment.

Deb: And how did all the different backgrounds work together?

Faith: They did great! It’s surprising to see how much they improve in one year. We also offer apprenticeships for the students who show great potential at the audition but need a little more experience. Apprentices attend the same classes as company members, but until they are moved up to the full company they do fewer performances and understudy.

Deb: What does the DYPC performance season look like?

Faith: DYPC typically takes on 25 performances a year. These include performances from Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival to Brew City Bruisers halftime shows; Lakefront Festival of the Arts to UPAF events. They also do a full-length production annually called Gingerbread Express, which is our holiday show.

Deb: Can you give us an idea of what their training includes?

Faith: This season we will be offering opportunities to a broader range of ages and experience levels by expanding to two companies — junior and senior.  Junior company dancers have approximately two hours of weekly rehearsals and a minimum of two technique classes of differing genres from our studio offerings. Average weekly involvement is approximately five hours, excluding performances. Senior company members have the same requirements with an additional hour of weekly rehearsal.

DYPC 2012-13

DYPC 2012-13

Deb: How is a dancer’s performance in the company evaluated?

Faith: Company dancers sign a contract; if it is broken in any way they must have an individual meeting with me and their parent/guardian(s). Their reviews are based on their contract as well as on academic requirements. They have to submit their report cards to me twice a year. Attendance, promptness, being prepared, clear communication, work ethic in rehearsals and classes, and being a positive representative of Danceworks and DYPC are all evaluated. I also get reviews on their development from their Danceworks instructors. The apprentices also have defined review dates which enable them to move up when they are ready.

Deb: If a student wants to audition on July 27, what does he or she need to do?

Faith: Complete the registration form by Monday, July 22.  The form is on our website, (link to DYPC here) as well as all the essential information. All who register will get a follow-up email from me next week.

For all of you interested in auditioning for Danceworks Youth Performance Company, I’m sending my very best wishes for a fun and enriching experience. Danceworks is here to help you become the dancer you dream to be!  –Deb Farris


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Ignite — A Hip Hop Dance Experience

Jeffrey Yang

Jeffrey Yang

I first met Jeffrey Yang when I wandered into the art studio one afternoon a few months ago, wondering who the nice looking young man was working away on his computer, and introduced myself.

“Wacha doin’?  I asked.

“Working on a promotional video of Danceworks classes.”

“Oh, you’re that guy!”

Jeff had volunteered to make a video that promoted Danceworks classes.  We have wanted this for a long time so his gift was amazing to us and will soon be ready to release. 

He’s a computer science wiz kid from Grand Rapids, MI who studied at Michigan State University.  He moved to Milwaukee in the summer of 2011 to work for Kohl’s as a technical analyst.  Today, he works a 9 to 5 desk job and dances evenings – teaching and rehearsing.  He found Danceworks in the summer of 2012 and has been teaching and helping out around the studio ever since.

It’s true, he is an amazing dancer and choreographer and we are excited he will be featured in our upcoming DanceLAB production IGNITE — a Hip Hop Dance Experience.   But what really captured my attention about Jeff was his willingness to pitch in and give what he could to get involved.  It’s people like Jeff that keep Danceworks moving forward.  Thank you Jeff!  –Deb Farris

Gabi Sustache and Jeff Photo credit:  Jon Liebherr

Gabi Sustache and Jeff
Photo credit: Jon Liebherr

If you were to come into Danceworks about a year ago and ask for Jeffrey Yang, you would probably get the response, “Who?” At the time, I was just a random walk-in who was new to town; but my affiliation with Danceworks quickly grew as I began volunteering at their shows. I would jump at any opportunity to usher, and I would often volunteer multiple times on the same weekend for the same show. After a couple months of ushering at Danceworks, I saw many performances, and I remember wondering what it would be like to dance in one of their shows—instead of just moving the ballet barres before and after!

It wasn’t until college that I started to discover dance. Growing up I was never exposed to dance classes or performances; so when I first got to Danceworks, I found it fascinating to watch the unfamiliar dance styles such as ballet, contemporary and tap. But, being a hip hop dancer, I would have enjoyed seeing a show where they featured performances I could relate to. Once I found out that Danceworks did not have a hip hop company (they had “Fuel” many years ago, but that company dissolved when Cedric Gardner left the city), I figured I would never get the chance to dance in a Danceworks concert. Then I heard about Ignite.

Ignite: A Hip Hop Dance Experience is going to be Danceworks’ first show in a long time consisting only of hip hop dance. When I first heard about it around the studio, it didn’t occur to me that, for the first time, I could be on the Danceworks stage rather than in the audience. This performance opportunity is special to me because I believe my dance career in Milwaukee started from working at a Danceworks show. Since moving to Milwaukee (two years ago) and that summer of volunteering, I now teach for Danceworks as well as other studios and have made many new dancer friends—some of whom I’ll perform with in Ignite. Now that I’m in a performance instead of ushering for it, I can’t help but think back on how much has changed, and all of the connections and opportunities that have stemmed from the shows I used to volunteer at.

I think Ignite is a great opportunity—not only for me, but for the hip hop community. The hip hop dancers in Milwaukee only get a handful of opportunities a year to perform at a hip hop exclusive show; our opportunities are usually smaller, informal and include performances other than hip hop. The nice thing about Ignite is that anybody is welcome to submit an application; you don’t have to audition to be a part of a performance company or have any prior affiliation with Danceworks to participate. Danceworks is giving hip hop dancers the chance to share their talent in a professional setting, and for most—at least, for me—this will be their most legitimate performance yet.

Sometimes, I feel like hip hop doesn’t get equal recognition as an art form in comparison to other styles of dance; so it’s nice to see hip hop share the same stage that I’ve seen so many contemporary and ballet performances on. I think the individuals in this genre of dance are very supportive of one another; so I’m excited to cheer on my peers and feed off of their energy to hopefully put on a very entertaining show. Thank you, Danceworks!