Live review | Other Dance Festival 2011: Week 1

Victor Alexander Ramirez

Victor Alexander Ramirez Photograph: Eileen Ryan

Three dances on each side of an intermission party with birthday cake inaugurated [node:14911351 link=the tenth annual Other at Hamlin Park Fieldhouse;]. The program repeated on September 9 at 7:30pm; three more lineups play two nights each through September 30. On opening night, the works were…

…refreshed. Replacing Justin Deschamps, still recovering from a serious injury, Victor Alexander learned and debuted the role opposite Michel Rodriguez in Andrea Miller’s Dust (for Jack), a now-signature work for Hedwig Dances to Arvo Pärt. I missed the palpable presence of backstory in the two men’s exchanges—Deschamps and Rodriguez, both long-limbed and weightless, played it as intimately as real brothers. What Alexander, who appears onstage to be about twice Rodriguez’s size and weight, brought to the work was an immovable presence which seemed a memory to Rodriguez, or a demon within, or an unresolved relationship. With the dance-theater toned down, one saw more of Miller’s rigorous structure for the piece (artfully disguised as pedestrianism or spontaneity). The sequential mechanics of collapses to the floor by both bodies in constant contact read more clearly; a cascading limbo of each dancer under the other’s forearm, held horizontally, spilled toward us in the audience as one event with multiple parts, instead of a series of events, each of which was its own wrestling match. Having now seen two casts’ interpretations, it’s even more apparent how completely conceived a piece of choreography this is.

…refined. [node:246643 link=In February;], Darrell Jones’s Hoo-Ha set before us a stripped-down evocation of the vogue ball. It doesn’t appear to have changed much in form overall but damn, how Jones, [node:82323 link=Damon Green;] and J’Sun Howard have tuned it. (A new lighting scheme, brighter with a striking second look like footlights, also suggests more and heightens the drama considerably.) The three men’s synchronized poses, fiercely arrow-straight struts, slackly spiraling meandering and heterogenous dance breaks now share a glorious boredom accessorized with precision. There’s less anger and more brotherhood in the piece than before, although the first section’s soundtrack—blown-out beats and crowd chatter from the Respect March Madness Part 2 ball, says the program—still recalls a field recording from a war zone—an urban one, of defiant queerness.

…promising. Raizel Performances, a group on hiatus since 2007 whose founder, Jenny Shore Butler, now lives in Montreal, showed Foreign Policy, “an excerpt from a future full length modern dance musical.” (That mouthful also describes its last big work here, The Piners Prom, which transformed the Open End Gallery in 2006.) To music composed and performed live by her husband, Will Butler of the Arcade Fire, Shore Butler has three dancers speak over each other text taken from interviews with international aid workers. A lot of this text wasn’t isolated or delivered loud enough to make out; I also wondered about its relationship to the dancing trio’s rhythmic manipulation of folding chairs and why Katie Pavlik was buried under the chairs at the end so matter-of-factly. There is something, though, in the juxtaposition of senseless tasks, passionate lyrics over live piano, and testimonials from the bureaucracy between haves from here and have-nots “over there.”

…poetic. Literally. Sitting on a bench, Jeff Abell read Angel Surrounded by Paysans by Wallace Stevens, repeating bits and taking breaks to turn and watch four dancers from the Chicago Moving Company in Ashen Wing by Nana Shineflug. The first movement and some of the second from Graham Fitkin’s driving piano work, Fervent, played under it all while Karla Beltchenko, Precious Jennings, Matthew McMunn and Mindy Meyers (all excellent) leapt and somersaulted and leapt again and tumbled and leapt and somersaulted again and tumbled some more. A gobo threw a golden leaflike pattern of light onto the backdrop; the dancers’ sheer shirts (“apparitions appareled in apparels of such lightest look”) and burgundy pants (by Collin Bunting) looked like costumes from a [node:14427303 link=Trisha Brown;] piece. “Quickly, too quickly, I am gone,” ended the poem but these four had been flying headfirst for so long…

…tweaked. With its focus on [node:14916063 link=a big fall premiere at the MCA;], The Better Half, Lucky Plush Productions opted to revive Memory Mash for the Other. It’s what Girl Talk might choreograph were he a dance nerd, less manic and at all interested in composing a whole. A quintet traceable back to LPP’s [node:69779 link=appropriation opus;] Punk Yankees and the heyday of the Beyoncé–Bob Fosse debate, Memory Mash makes references to dance artists left and right (some of whom were in the audience). The piece is still appealing, [node:14861315 link=especially to a house full of rabid dance fans;], and it’s received a few updates in the interim, to include “Run the World (Girls)” and such, although out-of-sync supertitles stole most of its first section’s timing-dependent punchlines.

…talkative. Peter Carpenter presented [node:7560295 link=the fourth installment;] of his Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times, a solo for Ondine Geary subtitled Considering the Pelvis. The piece continues Carpenter’s series’ parallel paths so far: 1.) exploring alternate definitions of wealth—creativity, compassion, bravery, transparency—in a cultural context saddled with despair over poverty, which poverty is, in a global context, practically nonexistent; and 2.) dissecting Carpenter’s own methodologies as a dance maker.  

Pelvis may be the most directly focused on the latter so far. Geary, with charm and seemingly off-the-cuff, talked us through where each phrase of movement came from, joked about Carpenter “taking credit for [all of] it,” underlined choreography’s default power dynamic of idea (wo)man vs. dancer/laborer, touched on differences between how she and Carpenter were raised to consider the body and more—all while executing and reorganizing the movement she was talking about. It could’ve easily felt academic or too-clever or puzzling but Carpenter is such a fucking pro at this stuff that instead it was just fun and thought-provoking.

The tenth annual Other Dance Festival continues with three more unique programs and other events at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse through September 30.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)