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Flash Review 2, 6-20: Dancing inna Chicago Style
Storefront for Dance Debuts

By Selene Carter
Copyright 2000 by Selene Carter

CHICAGO -- Hurray! I finally believe that there is a strong, vital identity to contemporary dance in Chicago and a promising new venue to support it. Saturday at the Storefront Theater, a new downtown venue from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, I witnessed a cohesive program of cutting-edge dance, Chicago style, curated by dancer/choreographer Peter Sciscioli. There wasn't a bomb in the bunch. The weekend's offering, "Balanced on the Ledge," aptly showcased exciting work by a handful of gifted independent artists: Sheldon B. Smith, Asimina Chremos, Carrie Hanson, and Lisa Wymore. All fascinating choreographers who happen to be in the prime of their dancing and performing lives.

The Storefront Theater is a simple black box theater, that for the most part is a welcome venue for dance, not too cavernous and with an adaptable seating plan -- something local artists are in dire need of, after the un-timely demise of too, too many venues (light the candles for Moming Dance and Arts Center, Randolph Street Gallery, Name Gallery and the Blue Rider Theater). I am so accustomed to seeing dances in the white-box space of Links Hall (though it has it's charms...) it was a thrill to get a different, more formal view of some of the local talents.

So, what is Chicago style? Where are we on the map, and in the tree of modern dance? In many ways we've been left to our own devices, too far from either of the Coasts, and not nationally recognized; it's both a blessing and a curse. Chicago style is virtuosic and technically oriented, with a strong urge to evoke and explore identity through image and form. This work is formal!! We are after all in THE city of architecture and our foremothers, Katherine Dunham and Ruth Page, were a lot about re-telling stories about identity. AND they were kick-ass dancers. That's what I found Saturday.

The first dance, "Zharmon," by Sheldon B. Smith was a beautiful study of form, density, mass and changing patterns done on a simple grid of squares of five dancers. The chess pieces on the chess board had come to life, and instead of kings and queens they were real people, your friends and neighbors in t-shirts and sweat-pants. Smith, also known for composing his own inventive musical scores, accompanied the dance with a compelling score that drove the dancers on through the piece. He showed us, quite humbly, how beautiful movement in close proximity can be. Have you ever felt that exhilaration as you move through revolving doors, or up the crowded subway stairs with your fellow humans, when you can sense space and the ongoing math of every step you are taking together? Smith takes this simple joy and multiplies it, intensifying it and making the restrictive space a place of immeasurable possibility that ripples out for us, beckoning our attention and delight. He uses deft, intricate partnering. Suddenly a body is arching over the others but never leaves the grid or the pulse and step of the music. Quirky, oddly soothing gestures and tribal jumping bubble through the dance. The overall structure was layered so that after captivating us with the intricate patterns of shifting place, he would -- just when we needed it -- provide a simple calm. As the dancers lined up in a new configuration, our eyes took a rest, and the space came alive in a new way.

Smith's other contribution to the evening, an improvised solo to radio noise, was equally exquisite in its understated way. The choreographer, in an ill-fitting suit, sits in front of a low florescent light, next to a large 'boom box,' like a Robert Longo painting, or a character from a short story by Rick Moody, or even Agent Mulder in an X-files episode. Smith is bathed in eerie, other-worldly light, undergoing a strange transformation to the skewed feedback of the AM radio. What ensued was a heartbreakingly raw and moving portrait of a modern man, any man. Even though Smith undercut himself, as usual, with self-parody and tongue-in-cheek humor, the pathos of the solo could not be denied. As he turned the dial through the radio he danced to the sounds with a sweet vulnerability. Responding to a song as if he were calling out to a lover leaving him, "Go ahead and leave, I'll be right here!" he shouted after his phantom love (I think the radio was playing "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" at that point). It's such a rare, private moment, to see a man dance to music, any music that moves him. Smith, a tall, languid, angular mover, has a beautiful sense of line and phrasing. As he continued dancing he started to strip and the privateness was underscored. Is he masturbating? Where is he? He called out, "Just a minute, I'm almost done," stripping down to his briefs and a ridiculously charming t-shirt that read "Dance Sensation," with an image of an Ailey-esque dancer in a brilliant leap emblazoned across the front of his chest. The audience howled with laughter, but it's that kind of humor where it's so sad and true and real that sometimes it's just easier to make a joke out of what you're feeling and seeing.

Carrie Hanson offered a triptych of solos in her "Suite for Weird Sisters: Ruby's Geometry, Aquamarina Lacryma, and Brunella Tell No Secret." Carrie is a technical wizard. Strong, clean and economical in her movement, she wastes nothing. Perhaps in the tradition of Cindy Sherman, or Marie Chouinard, each figure was a study of the fractured interior world of a woman. The first, "Ruby's Geometry," etched the strongest image. Hanson begins in a hot red bustier circa Madonna En Vogue era, and a beautiful, swirling velvet skirt, like Pauline Koner in "Moors Pavane." Wearing a bright red disheveled wig, she rides a skateboard like a strange little sled. Pulsing like an orchid, like an aroused sexual organ, Hanson whips and skids, a whirl of red velvet, fierce and detached. The other two solos were equally well conceived in their costuming and use of props, the next utilizing a cool aqua pantsuit, a blue wig and scuba flippers; the last, a brown feather boa and a lingerie dress also trimmed with boa. It's cool and sexy, like if your Barbies came to life and were dancing in their groovy clothes. Valley of the Dolls merges with modern dance and the result is hip and sexy and goes down easy. There is a schism in Hanson's performance of this work. I can't find HER in it, but maybe that's the point? She's a master of disguise and I want to keep watching.

Asimina Chremos, known for her powerful solo work, has been blazing trails ever since she hit town from her Philly. She was once a professional ballerina, and I call her the freaky formalist. Mina is such a strong presence and can cast such a spell that it's hard to notice anyone else on stage when she's dancing in her work. This night she presented her pick-up company wonderslamdance, and sadly, did not appear in "Twinklefist 1 and 2." But maybe it's a blessing, because her dancers rose to the occasion. Sleek, saucy beauties, outfitted in trade-mark thrift store elegance, all glittery and this time white like the swans, like the sylphs, like the Wilis, each a funky mass of tulle and mosh pit girl. These girls were the corps de ballet on acid. Chremos creates a netherworld of pure, visceral, kinetic motion. It's a hyper-dance state where Balanchine and Bronislava Nijinska meet Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. The dancers ooze like amoebas, then burst out in balletic bravado, all the while carving an intricate, clever path through space. Yeah, they're sexy, but they remain cleverly out of the objectifying gaze with the sheer power and strength of their dancing. The body's glory is made manifest in Chremos's work. She finds and shows us the balance of beauty in a dazzling arabesque and a convulsing torso rolling on the floor through a pre-spinal pattern.

In her solo "IceScream," Lisa Wymore creates a precarious state of internal danger that lchemizes to safety and transformation through a physical journey. Wymore, on a large rectangle of plastic taped to the floor, dances in front of a projected image of clouds. Hearing the sound of her body slapping against the plastic, and her limbs slicing and slipping through what seems like cold air, I was struck by how powerful a movement state can be. Mary Wigman championed this process, and Wymore seems to be a child born out of this tradition, using pure movement and shape to get from somewhere dangerous to somewhere safe, or at least somewhere else. Wymore stays in this intense state, until finally the shift occurs, she lays on the 'ice' and I can almost feel the cold on her pale body. The projected image shifts to an image of serene water. Lake Michigan? From mist to water, through ice, the journey is complete.

In "Turbulence," a duet by Wymore which was a strong companion to her solo, she and another dancer appear in innocent feminine dresses. The figures they create are reminiscent of the Isadorables, but how purely gorgeous it is: the flung leap and the un-pointed toe, caught up in the ecstasy of pure motion; the familiar forms emerging -- the off-kilter skip, the spiralling turn, a simple lush waltz. The modern edge comes into play with the industrial sound score creating a strong juxtaposition to the curving softness of the women in motion. They seem trapped within powerful currents of motion, eddying and then seized when the currents collide. I will be curious to see how Wymore continues to limn the traditional, technical cannon of modern dance in this strikingly fresh way.

This weekend at the Storefront theater, the series continues with "The Sky is Falling," showcasing Breakbone Dance, Kay Wendt LaSota, Peter Sciscioli and Xsight!. Don't miss it if you're in town; Chicago dance is thriving and growing!

Editor's Notes

Due to unanticipated communications complications -- hey, Mercury IS in retrograde! -- this Flash was not received until Monday night, which is why you're just getting it now.

Asimina Chremos is also a contributor to The Dance Insider Online.

Selene Carter is deeply involved in improvisational dance and studies with Nancy Stark-Smith, Simone Forti and Karen Nelson. In Chicago, Carter coordinates the Links Hall Workshop Series, creating a forum for post-modern dance in the city. Recently, her work has been presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Movable Beast Dance Festival, at Links Hall and in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.


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