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Rebecca Lazier

at the Dance Center of Columbia College, July 9

All dancers have beautiful bodies. Rebecca Lazier has a magnetic one. Not only does she unfailingly draw the eye, she conveys such a strong sense of connection to the floor that she seems unable to put a foot wrong. More, her choreography imparts that sense to the dancers who work with her. In her evening of new work at the Dance Center–one of several “Summer Dance Chicago” events–she capitalized on this sureness to explore the personal and cultural complexities of the world.

The evening began with a duet excerpted from A Stone’s Throw, part of her New York company’s repertory. The piece, danced by Lazier and company member Jennifer Lafferty, is startlingly erotic, though the women don’t often touch; instead each concentrates on her own body. One gesture recurs: arms crossed in front, one wrist captured by the other hand. This image of entrapment permeates the piece, so that when the dancers mirror each other in a series of contortions the effect is tense rather than comic. Similarly, when Lazier lifts Lafferty by thrusting a fisted arm between her legs, the gesture is not clumsy but dangerous. Otherwise unobtrusive New Age music by Jody Elff has an insistent rhythm that counterpoints the dance but doesn’t seem to drive it. Lazier later noted that she generally choreographs in silence, because “dance has to be a music of its own.”

A solo, Sepia, displays all of Lazier’s strengths as dancer and choreographer: her clean articulation, trust in momentum, and ability to communicate ideas without signposting them. Performed to intermittently explosive music (uncredited but apparently the work of percussionist Shane Shanahan, a longtime Lazier collaborator), the piece illustrates the dancer’s effort to center herself in a chaotic world. Her opening movement, to the funereal sound of bells, is interrupted by a change in the music–and suddenly she’s cowering as though from a bomb. But soon she rises, reincarnated, through a deep demi-plie that underscores the effort it costs. This pattern of damage and recovery informs the entire piece: phrases showing her off balance–as when she seems dragged forward by her tied hands–alternate with yoga-inflected moves. There’s a brief loss of focus late in the dance, with too many musical explosions producing too much fussy business, but Lazier recovers with a strong final gesture. Here wrist grasping reveals alienation from self: after shaking her trapped hand until it seems a separate being, she tosses it carelessly over her head like trash.

The video of Lazier’s year in Turkey was the evening’s least interesting component. While it’s refreshing to encounter an artist who remembers that there is a world outside herself, by the time we’ve gotten through the travelogue to excerpts by the student company she formed and trained there our patience has worn thin and we can’t give the blurrily filmed pieces the attention they deserve. What matters is how the sights and sounds of her Turkish trip influenced Lazier’s choreography, not the sights and sounds themselves.

Something New, a duet whose first public presentation had taken place only the week before, is very much a work in progress. Set to autumnal piano music, it begins with Lazier and Lafferty reaching frantically past each other and includes a nice bit with their two bodies forming a single mechanism. But its themes and motifs are not yet fully developed.

Lazier explained that she received the commission for Vanish, a septet shown on film, with the stipulation that she use a Schoenberg trio. For someone whose choreography usually floats free of music, the challenge was to connect the two. She succeeds brilliantly, engaging her ensemble in a danse macabre that complements, though it can’t explain, the shrieking discord. Schoenberg has the right mix of structure and unpredictability to engage her imagination. The piece lacks the satisfying ending of Lazier’s other dances, but that’s what the music dictates.

Lazier finished up with Devastatingly Foolhardy, a playful solo she performs in bright pink satin toe shoes. To music by Israel Kamikow’ie (notably a reworking of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”), Lazier alternately struts across the stage on pointe and flops over like Raggedy Ann. Though predictable, the comic gestures–promenading like a girl wearing heels for the first time or standing on pointe on all fours, waving her tush frantically in an effort to stand–are charming.

For years people have dropped by Chicago Dramatists on a Saturday afternoon and paid $3 to hear a new play. There are no production values to speak of, and the work might be terrible; but it might be great, in which case you’re the first to know. These “Summer Dance Chicago” concerts are like that: drop by the Dance Center when you’re in the South Loop, pay a few bucks, and see what’s happening.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Arthur Simoes.