Tough Guts

Wade Madsen's flighty surface belies a disciplined interior.


Broadway Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway, 329-7368, $12-$17 8 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 5-Sun., Sept. 8 and 2 p.m. Sat., Sept. 7

The first time I saw Wade Madsen dance, he was cavorting around a 3-foot-tall cutout of a coffee cup, shimmying to the Manhattan Transfer’s version of “Java Jive.” He was tall and feral, with a kind of Bowie-esque androgyny, and the house was full of devotees who adored his every move. This was in 1981, at the tail end of the “dance boom,” when everyone was in love with dance as a kinesthetic experience and reveling in the way it made us feel lush and sinuous.

What I didn’t notice about Madsen at first was the architecture beneath the plush. Under the popular music and sexy characters is a clear, methodical exploration of structure and organization— theme and variations, fugues and canon forms, accumulation and retrograde patterns. Madsen operates with the same dual setup as Twyla Tharp: a surface of recognizable pop culture elements surrounding a rigorous interior construction. A solo like Dress, performed to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Requiem,” carried me away initially with Madsen’s voluminous skirt and Sarah Brightman’s luxurious voice; only later did I see the counterpoint between his sweeping gestures and the repeating motifs in the score. The gloss catches attention at first, but the guts challenge our minds and keep us engaged in his career.

Madsen has choreographed almost 150 dances, many of them for students at Cornish College, where he teaches. Several of those students have become his regular performers, creating an ensemble that is very familiar with his work and his preferences. “They’re all dancers I’ve taught since they were young. I know them so well, I know the intentions of their organs. And they have a sense of honor and trust for each other, a physical understanding of inertia and momentum like mine; they’re interested in my idea of theatrics.”

Lately Madsen has been thinking about Don Quixote and its layers of stories. “I finally read the book, and it just overwhelmed me,” he says. “We go through our lives on this pathway and we come across many people, all with their own stories.” In Madsen’s new piece, In Search of Dulcinea, which will be performed this week at the Broadway Performance Hall, “the don is always in search of this ideal woman, an idea of perfection. As dancers we’re constantly striving for perfection, knowing we won’t achieve it. We’re like all these people, striving towards something. But the real goal is in the doing.”

In The Don’s Party, the companion piece for the evening, Madsen will draw attention to the content of the story by changing its context. “It’s full of these little tidbits, little proverbs: ‘Giving money to a poor man is like pouring money into the sea.’ From this book discussing love, striving for love, I rearrange these phrases and put them into a 1950s cocktail party. It’s surfacey and light, casually talking. During the late 1950s, we had all these bomb shelters—we were freaked out about war with Russia. Juxtapose that with now, the acts of last year. We’re in denial about what’s happening in the world. This is how to do denial—shifting to trivial.” The lip-synching—to a score of music and pre-recorded dialogue—reinforces a sense of detachment.

Referring to a scene in Dancemaker, the documentary about Paul Taylor, Madsen says, “I was fascinated when Paul Taylor was experimenting with small movement; he had these two dancers onstage and they just stood there for the whole piece. Dance has gotten so outrageous sometimes—it’s everything: tumbling and gliding and flying and swinging. I want to bring back the idea of simplicity, simplistic movement in a confined space. Most of my works have used the whole space. This is confined in a living room.”

Since that performance in the coffee cup, Madsen continues to work on multiple levels, performing as his alter ego Phoneica in a cabaret act, while exploring John Cage-like minimalism for this upcoming show. His career has been a mirror for the dances he makes. He dresses serious things in silky costumes, catching our attention to show us something important inside.


Smart and approachable. Pacific Northwest Ballet is spending a second year in their temporary quarters at the Mercer Arts Arena, offering the same mix of accessible programming that served them so well last spring. The season starts with The Merry Widow, a danced version of the popular operetta with a plummy role for Ariana Lallone and lots of swishy costumes to waltz in. Mercer Arts Arena, 292-ARTS. Thurs., Sept. 26-Sat., Oct. 5.

The air show. The women of d9 Dance Collective like to shop: Rather than waiting to be asked, they look locally and nationally for work that they want to dance and then hire the choreographer. This season they’ll be hanging from the ceiling as well as leaping off the floor in Tethered, an aerial work by N.Y.C.-based Lisa Race. Velocity MainSpace Theater, 781-7746. Fri., Oct. 4-Sun., Oct. 13.

A visit from the source. The Bolshoi Ballet gave the very first performances of Swan Lake back in 1877, and they still have major bragging rights to the work. The “plastique” quality they are known for, a kind of intense flexibility, is at the core of the swan image, and their production of the ballet uses that suppleness for all it’s worth. Paramount Theater, 292-ARTS. Wed., Oct. 30-Sun., Nov. 3.

Hip-hop history lesson. Last time Rennie Harris-Pure Movement was at On the Boards, he brought a workshop version of Rome and Jewels, his hip-hop retelling of Romeo and Juliet. This year, the Philadelphia-based artist has created The Legends of Hip Hop, a kind of living history lesson, featuring Harris with “Illadelph Legends” Crazy Legs, Popin’ Pete, Don Campbell, DJ Tracy Evil, and the Untouchables. On the Boards, 217-9888. Thurs., Nov. 21-Sun., Nov. 24.

Mystery date redux. In addition to making their own work, Jarrad Powell and Mary Sheldon Scott play yenta for local music and dance makers in their ongoing Composer/Choreographer events. Sometimes they’ll match you up with an artist you’ve always longed to work with, other times they know what’s good for you. Either way, it’s a new pairing with lots of possibilities, and sometimes fabulous results. Velocity MainSpace Theater, 325-8773. Fri., Nov. 8-Sun., Nov. 10.