Li Chiao-Ping Dance

May 9, 2009

Li Chiao-Ping Dance
Wisconsin Union Theater

Madison, WI

May 9, 2009

Reviewed by Susan Kepecs


Li Chiao-Ping in Elizabeth Streb’s
Board. Photo by John Maniaci.


Li Chiao-Ping’s “Women Dancing” consisted of seven solos made for her by a who’s who of postmodern choreographers. These were smart, edgy works, and Li’s dancing looked peak. She’s got unexpected ballon in her sturdy style.

Li’s a potent soloist, and she shares sundry sensibilities with the invited dancemakers, her close cohort. She finessed the surprises of choreographic sisterhood, wearing the diverse works like second skin, interpreting them with characteristic intensity and smidgens of madness.

Two pure dances tapped the twin veins of Li’s signature vocabulary—a muscular, pedestrian-based flow and an obliquely classical countercurrent. Molissa Fenley’s physically demanding, dancey Camber upended the normal lines of human movement through heavy emphasis on the lateral plane. Li’s limbs swung in unison on one side, then the next.

In June Watanabe’s old-school Mendelssohn Piece, Li, totally self-possessed, simply danced in a brown dress. She ran in curves, sank into bent knees, sprang into kicky leaps. The music stopped suddenly, bringing her to a halt. In place of her customary concentration face she blinked at the audience over her shoulder as if to say “Who, me?”

Heidi Latsky’s Processing set exposed-nerve urban angst to an electronic mashup of sparse but significant words and radio static. Soundtracks of this ilk are last-century leftovers, but Li raced into its auricular insanity with wild spidery gallops, hands flailing, flinging her hair.

A second over-the-edge ode, Equipoise Elegy, by Bay Area performance artist Cynthia Adams, exposed a funnier side of anxiety. Li, in stripey tights, balanced precariously in demi-relevé, juggling ping pong balls to Itzhak Perlman’s mournful violin accompaniment. The hollow orbs fell like popcorn, with increasing intensity. Mouth agape like Edvard Munch’s screamer, Li scooped some up and flung them back.

Elizabeth Streb’s X-treme choregraphy looks less like Li’s than the rest. Board, a game of chicken with a spinning 2×4, proved that the edge on slam-action works dulls with familiarity. Li, setting the speed of the low-flying pine propeller with her hands and feet, dove over and under it, belly-flopping sonorously on the gray landing mat beneath. But the risk of getting smacked that lit Board’s fall ’08 premiere was ameliorated this time by Li’s consummate confidence.

Like Board, Bebe Miller’s Watching Watching is a game. Li danced downstage, watching a video loop of herself doing the same sequence. Behind her, the video projected on screen. Was it simulcast? I watched for clues—nearly imperceptible lags, out-of-synch steps. Sometimes just one of the bodies froze, but the setup tests your powers of perception. I wasn’t completely convinced till the screen went dark and Li kept dancing.

Victoria Marks and Li, who share activist tendencies, co-choreographed a spoken-word work, A Dance Should Have Trees In It. From upside-down shoulder stands and with repetitive little steps that came to symbolize “soldier,” “action hero” and “prayer,” Li channeled a soldier’s story of the Iraq invasion. Though that war’s fading as another ratchets up, the piece still packed emotional punch.