Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dance review: Esoteric Dance Project, "Craft"

As part of my challenge this summer to get out more, I've decided to start attending dance recitals on a regular basis again; I used to do so regularly back in college 25 years ago, back when I would occasionally date dancers here and there, and especially now with my hearing problems is usually a much more pleasant way for me to spend an evening than at a movie or play. And I thought since I was doing so, I would do write-ups here of all the shows I'm seeing too, not only to keep me more motivated for going out but also as an interesting intellectual exercise, in that I don't know the first thing about the formalities or history of dance, so cannot write essays based on any learned or traditional standpoint.

The first event of the year was last night, at Links Hall just down the street from my apartment, picked totally at random simply because I didn't feel like traveling far; it was the show "Craft" by the Esoteric Dance Project, a fairly new company founded by husband and wife Brenna Pierson-Tucker and Christopher Tucker, and now in just the second year of performances. It was an interesting line-up of five pieces, including three premieres, plus a piece that intriguingly combined classical ballet moves with modern steps; but overall you could say that most of the show was dedicated to a sort of fascinating obsession with rhythm, order, geometry, and the way all these things could be played with within the square confines of the beautifully unique Links Hall performance space you're seeing in these photos. (And note that these shots are actually from a previous performance by the group last year.) It was a kind of hypnotizing experience of simply done but complexly rigid group movements, sometimes traveling large distances quickly and sometimes concentrating on just one specific spot, and I found the complicated ins-and-outs between the players to be really mesmerizing at times.

Plus I have to admit, although this might sound a little weird, I found it really joyful that many of EDP's dancers are…well, not 'overweight,' that's not the right word, because all of them are definitely at the top peak of conditioning, but certainly many are larger or stouter in general than the typical waif stereotype we think of when thinking of ballet, for example. Maybe it's because I'm middle-aged, and now have this ten-inch steel rod in my hip that puts permanent limits on some of the things I can do in my life; but I found something really celebratory about EDP featuring the kinds of dancers who would normally get pushed to the fringe in a more traditional company.

And this show also gave me a chance to contemplate something again that I always find really fascinating about the arts, of why certain artists make certain choices at certain points in their careers concerning what they're going to do with their lives. Because the fact is that everyone involved with this show was roughly the same age; but while some of them were dancers and choreographers, and had bios that reflected this kind of concentration, some were simply dancers, and their bios more emphasized starring roles in famous productions, while of course the twentysomething husband-and-wife founders (pictured above) thought it important enough to actually go to all the trouble of starting and running their own company. Why each of these artists picked those particular things to do within the dance world is something I find endlessly interesting to contemplate; and Chicago is full of these kinds of places, not just in dance but literature, theater, music and more, where a group of equally young people will come together with their different concentrations and pull a whole show together by the end.

And next? Well, most likely "Return," by what's being billed as "Rachel Thorne Germond and Friends" (formerly RTG Dance, but who are going through a re-branding process right now), again at Links Hall next weekend, which at a typical $10 to $15 admission at these "storefront theatre" shows is really hard to beat. (And a little trivia, by the way; back when this neighborhood was the epicenter of Chicago's punk scene in the '80s, there used to be a basement "black box" performance space in this building called "Club Lower Links," which was the first Chicago home for such touring performance artists as Karen Finley, Henry Rollins, and Eric Bogosian.) As always, I'll let you know about that one next week.