Li Chiao-Ping Dance

March 4, 2004


Li Chiao-Ping Dance

Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space
Madison, Wisconsin

March 4-6, 2004

Reviewed by Susan Kepecs


Painkillers, an intensely edgy multimedia collaboration by choreographer Li Chiao-Ping and visual artist/director Douglas Rosenberg, premiered in the cushy new hall of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s long-lived Dance Program, the duo’s academic home. Li’s six dancers (herself included), Rosenberg, and composers Daniel Feiler, Ryan Smith and Stephen Vitiello have bonded through time and practice. In Painkillers, this tie paid off.

This full-length work blurred the personal/universal frontier. In January 1999, Li was severely injured in a car accident. She’s moved on, with a new Bach project and other pleasant works, but agony is not so easily exorcized. Painkillers springs from shock. What does it look like to roll in a crash of glass and steel? Can you unmask the gestalt of trauma units and barbiturate states onstage? How do you dance to emotional pain? The company explored these questions and more, relentlessly, for 75 minutes.

At the core of the piece was a string of solos. The Hitchcock-esque “Amnesia” featured Li carving up space with angular, convulsive moves, casting shadows on video screens filled with flying crows. In “Black and Blue,” Robin Baartman crashed through sequential nightmares while subliminal messages like “I was scared,” and “Percoset, ” “lit the screens.” Kim Blanchard’s wild X-ray dance, “Grafting,” evoked organ transplant discotheques. Collette Stewart licked the edges of sexual rejection in “Avoidance/Attraction.”

One segment flowed into the next in an anxious river of free-floating transitions. Dances were replaced by close-up video clips of the dancers, telling the camera their own tales of pain. All six women were onstage, aching in unison. Alone, Li, in an otherworldly state, told stories “about a woman, she’s not me.”

Painkillers could have been corny, but instead was utterly convincing. These strong, well-trained dancers were wholly willing to inhabit the nuanced essences of suffering. The words, the accident-like ambience, flashing lights, live lap-top sounds of the spheres amplified the effect, commanding both remembrance of pain and its experience on the spot.

Bits of Painkillers have emerged before in Li’s work. They’ve been interesting, but without much punch. The full-length piece was a visceral, kinesthetic tour-de-force. It’s this whammy that punts Li Chiao-Ping’s multimedia company up to a higher level in the world of dance performance.

Upcoming performances: Dance Place, Washington, D.C., July 24-25 See