CHICAGO DANCE MEDIUM
at the Dancespace Performance Center
May 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11
Isadora Duncan fervently believed in the power of movement–“movements are as eloquent as words,” she wrote in her autobiography. This noble philosophy is explored poignantly in the works presented by Chicago Dance Medium in its spring concert series. The program’s most exhilarating work, choreographed by artistic director Rosemary Doolas, sprang from the company’s residency with hearing-impaired students from the Kinzie School.
It would come as no surprise to Isadora Duncan that these third- to fifth-graders–like all youngsters–display an innate gift for expression through movement. The kids’ hearing impairments (which vary in degree) are never apparent as they perform with the company in A Falling Piece, a Piece Falling. On the contrary, they exhibit an impressive sense of timing and equanimity, responding to their cues like pros.
One of three works on the program choreographed by Doolas, this is a captivating exploration of modes of falling. Across a darkened stage, children and adults take turns skipping or shuffling along a slender shaft of light projected on the floor. Grinning with obvious delight, a boy leads the group in well-timed runs and falls. Stretching and yawning luxuriously, the children mirror the dancers, eventually “falling asleep.” Throughout the piece, the children exhibit what artistic associate Timothy Buckley calls “a natural gift for uninhibited movement.” A boy slowly extends his leg, arms outstretched to balance, then twists, smoothly repeating the series of steps. The part of the score by Laurie Anderson verbally reinforces the falling theme. While several dancers and children sign the words to her “Walking and Falling,” others recite along with Anderson.
The company displays a gift for comedic flourishes in a segment depicting falling in love. Debra Janes and Hector Cruz perform a saucy duet, with Janes skillfully alternating between balletic virtuosity and uncontrolled panic. Cruz plays straight man to Janes’s coquette, executing a beautiful lift only to drop her with a thud. Pianist Richard Clayderman’s occasionally quirky composition sets just the right tone for the highly textured ensemble work. Following the children’s lead, the dancers toss off flying leaps before collapsing to the floor.
Former New York-based choreographer Buckley set Lost in the Translation on the Chicago Dance Medium for its recent “Spring Ahead” showcase. After choreographing a series of steps, Buckley asked the dancers (Julie Brodie, Balinda Craig-Quijada, Cruz, Dawn Herron, Janes, and Louis Miller) to translate the movement to different parts of the body. In a comedic master stroke, Buckley chose klezmer-band songs as accompaniment. Bouncy and raucous, this melange of accordions, clarinets, and percussion instruments creates a perfect foil for the spirited dancing. Craig-Quijada arcs her leg, pulling it into arabesque. In a move reminiscent of Harpo Marx, one dancer grabs another’s lifted knee. Buckley plays along with the crazy-quilt music, following mazurka steps with legs chopping into leaps or barrel-roll turns. Buckley’s signature loose-limbed, rag-doll moves give way to quicksilver backward rolls to the floor.
Doolas’s A Scape is a thoughtful work. The first section has no musical accompaniment but features an original film by Norman Magden as backdrop: he shot the Emergence Dance Theatre performing A Scape for the film version. Five dancers (Brodie, Cruz, Herron, Janes, and Miller) independently execute body rolls, head isolations, and crawling movements. Whirring like cogs, they finally draw together in a clutch, and at this point their movements are clearly in perfect sync with those of the film: the double image is one of a rose in full bloom. Doolas’s choreography uses the environment as two dancers lunge onto the ballet barre upstage, defying the boundaries of the stage. Unfortunately, we still get the sense that the dancers are constrained by the performance space, as their filmed counterparts are by the celluloid. The last section, danced to the music of Kraftwerk, eliminates the film backdrop and works better. Lovely and upbeat, it offers a pleasing interplay between dancers, full of athletic jumps and graceful lifts.
Guest artist Anthony Gongora’s choreography in ComePile arose from structured improvisations with the company. Vivid, multicolored costumes enhance the sharp arm slices and angled body positions of the piece. Dancers jump into the air, executing quick hip circles. Moving in groups of three, the dancers melt into the plie, curving arms and contracting until they resemble birds of prey. Two dancers hold a third (Miller) between them on tensed, outstretched arms. We are surprised when, in an instant, Miller deftly somersaults over their arms. Gongora successfully combines a strong score with forceful choreography, in the well-crafted style we’ve come to expect of his work.
The third dance by Doolas, Untitled, is a quiet ensemble piece with controlled but fluid movements. Guest artists Amy Alt, Ceci Fano, Lauren Helfand, and Christy Munch join the four female company members to evoke a sweet sensuality in even the smallest gesture. Wearing loose cotton dresses, the dancers occasionally assume poses that evoke the calm portraits of Winslow Homer. The off-key piano did not do justice to the lyrical score by Ray Lynch, but that was the only sour note in the performance.