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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
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!
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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