Choreographer Stephen Petronio brings his namesake company back to Chicago, after an absence of 12 years, with the apocalyptic Underland. Created in 2003, then remounted in 2011, Petronio’s hour-long piece captures the malaise triggered by 9/11 and its aftermath, the Iraq war. Nick Cave‘s gruff-voiced music is often morose or cynical. Tara Subkoff‘s many ingenious costumes, from shredded club clothes to punk-ballerina garb and ragged camouflage, effectively set each dystopic scene—as did the video projections of explosions, shattering glass, and flooded landscapes that originally accompanied Underland. But Petronio has come to prefer the work stripped of those images, and that’s how it will be seen here. The mood is still bleak, but Petronio’s lilting, swooping choreography and the 11 dancers’ charged, nuanced performances are not.
In fact, now Underland thoroughly embraces ambiguity. A quartet set to Cave’s “The Ship Song” straddles a line between dark eroticism and comforting connection. And the ending, set to Cave’s druggy cover of Bob Dylan’s “Death Is Not the End,” is likewise equivocal. Like Hamlet, we can’t know what dreams may come in the sleep of death. Yet the dancers, dressed finally in virginal white, suggest a heartening possibility.