WINIFRED HAUN & DANCERS
April 29 and 30, 1994
By Laura Molzahn
Pushy, pushy, pushy. That’s Wini Haun, who a few years ago was a Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre dancer. Not that her choreography is pushy. Actually, it’s rather well-bred. No, she pushes her way into new areas, new dance forms, new music. She can’t let well enough alone. And she pushes herself onto the scene-which isn’t easy–coming up with a hometown concert every six months or so that includes at least one new dance.
No wonder her latest work, performed at the Athenaeum Theatre, is called Press On, Regardless. Here she tries on for size popular music of another era–she’s already tried contemporary pop (Peter Gabriel, Melissa Etheridge, Joe Cocker) and classical, the more difficult the better. To music by the Duke Ellington orchestra, the ensemble of seven weave their way around the stage in lines that never last long because–well, I’m not sure why. Because following the leader suddenly loses its charm, I guess. Dancers hoisted onto others’ backs or scrambling from one dancer’s back to another seem to be climbing giant’s steps or mountains. One dancer falls.
Thinking it was a real fall, I stiffened. But it was just Haun trying something new again. Most of her choreography is clean, precise, and odd–distortions of classical line carried off with the utmost authority and control. Like the nusic of the modern classical composers she loves, Haun’s work is austere and often dissonant. At the same time it’s subtly feminine, delicate and girlish. But in Press On she almost seems to emulate the Twyla Tharp of Sue’s Leg, the clown who introduces fumbles and mistakes and complicated partnerings as if for the hell of it. Abandoning her usual taut lines, Haun has the dancers simply stand in a row, backs to us, arms crossed over their chests–a pose that couldn’t be less presentational. I’m not sure Press On is a completely successful experiment, because it leaves out so much of what’s distinctive and beautiful about Haun’s work. But you have to admire her for not standing still.
You also have to admire Haun for her dancers. This choreography demands real accomplishment, but accomplished performers with good classical grounding tend to go to bigger companies. So Haun finds promising young people and trains them well–and they move on. Of the seven dancers here, four were new. Only one–Heather Girvan, who danced Haun’s work even before she formed the troupe in 1991– has been with the company more than a year and half. They do remarkable well. In the demanding Remake, which requires precise, sustained poses often on releve, Amy Crandall, Dana Gilhooley, Girvan, and Wendy Meyer were not only steady but downright sculptural. When lanky Paul Andrews really moved out in East 90/94 he took over the stage, and Albertossy Espinoza is both looser and more precise than he was last fall–he’s developed authority and a fine flair for comedy. Mariquita Levy, who performed Haun’s role in East 90/94 and a pivotal role in Press On, is not only technically excellent–both chiseled and supple–but expressive. In fact, all these dancers look like they mean something. Sometimes being pushy pays off.