For 25 years, Emily Stein has earned her daily bread teaching dance—currently at the rate of a dozen ballet classes a week. That’s not uncommon, but no other choreographer I know has crafted her experience into a thoughtful, moving, fun evening-length show. In the promenade-style Secret Experiments in Ballet #2, 14 dancers take over one of Chicago’s preeminent studio and classroom buildings. At each performance, the audience (limited to about 40 people)will be divided in two for the first three sections—set in a dressing room, hallway, and lounge—then reunited for the last three, performed in the spacious studios.
Even if you’re not a huge fan of ballet, Secret Experiments is so affectionate, so forgiving and celebratory, that it reinvigorates Western dance’s most venerable, and stuffy, form. Bobbles, wobbles, self-conscious faces: all are lovingly cataloged, in a context of mastery achieved. As a child, Stein saw ballet as a secret society, and her own spoken-and-danced solo near the end captures both her sense of wonder and the mature recognition that neither “secret” French terms nor their English translations—no words, in fact—can truly describe dance. Utilitarian and transcendent, dead serious and comic, Secret Experiments is not to be missed.