Live review | Other Dance Festival 2011: Week 3

Philip Elson pelts it out in the Seldoms' Stupormarket.

Philip Elson pelts it out in the Seldoms' Stupormarket. Photograph: William Frederking

Week three of the [node:14911351 link=Other Dance Festival;] opens with a tweaked excerpt from [node:225203 link=an excellent work that premiered here in February;], the SeldomsStupormarket. We enter the piece at the beginning of a middle section during which seven dancers demonstrate humorously titled moves (“The Slappy Swayback,” “The Sleepy Hunchback”) and name their prices. This gives way to a stretch of big, exciting movement including part of Thrift, choreographer Carrie Hanson’s 2009 women’s duet that, along with another short, Death of a (Prada) Salesman, gave birth to this evening-length work scored by Richard Woodbury.

The group’s architectural bobbing and weaving dies down; Javier Marchán Ramos kneels low and marks a volume with his forearms about one cubic foot and shaped like a house. Philip Elson—now living in Portland, sorely missed here onstage—steps in to receive this invisible house and marks it again, a little larger, and a little bit off of the ground. Amanda McAlister, Cara Sabin, Christina Gonzalez-Gillett and Damon Green each continue the sequence; by the time Green passes the “house” to Paige Cunningham, it’s big enough to step into. In order to redraw it larger, Cunningham’s body leaps wildly, pushed to its limits. Whirring saws and banging hammers soundtrack this inflation of a home that’s not actually there, seen only through physical labor. Cheekily, Hanson closes the segment with a bit involving bubblegum.

Seldom is it that dance-theater sparked by recent history speaks so firmly and so poetically to us about it.

Second work You may think I don’t know you, a seemingly structured improvisation, takes the evening in a wholly different direction. Next to an operable, freestanding door and frame made out of plastic tubing and roughed up (by Nick Grutz), superb Chicago clarinetist James Falzone plays to three women’s tumbling, articulate diagonal progression. Once Rachel Damon, Adriana Durant and JulieAnn Graham reach the door—comically revealing how creaky and flimsy it is—Falzone shifts into a quicker, jazzier idiom. A third zone finds the women, who wear simple print dresses, delving deeper into relationships and creating tension around the door. Falzone responds with more urgent, wailing sounds from his clarinet, [node:14956743 link=reminiscent of Robert Mirabal’s vocals;] during Eiko & Koma’s Raven (occurring at almost exactly the same time, five miles southeast at the MCA Stage). It’s the most satisfying and cohesive improvisation I’ve seen since [node:14795123 link=a festival for the form around town last June;].

The Power of Cheer, a quintet led by Mattrick Swayze (née Matthew Hollis), closes the first half with a joke-packed pom routine, half a capella and half to [node:56740 link=Kid Sister;]. It’s very well-rehearsed, freaking hilarious, and gently roasts festival cofounder Kay LaSota.

While the excerpt from the HumansPaper Shoes that follows is crisper and more focused than it was last December, it’s still a hard piece to invest in as a viewer. Part of the problem is that, when choreographer Rachel Bunting performs her own movement, it seethes with purpose; in particular, her eyes glow and quiver as if she’s seeing fantastic or horrifying things. Her collaborators too often seem to be following odd instructions they can’t figure out how to get into and own. (“Walk slowly toward the audience with a chair balanced on your head. A tick-tocking metronome will be attached to the chair.”) Sketchily conceived and poorly directed, it becomes tedious when it could be transportingly bizarre.

So the expansive, pure-movement study that follows, called locationships, come and gone, is a welcome palate-cleanser. Cochoreographed by Christine Betsill and Johannah Wininsky of Thread Meddle Outfit, it’s for seven women to smart music by Menomena, Swans and Tortoise. Hope Goldman, Becky O’Connell and Anna Sapozhnikov are especially fluent in their roles and deliberate in their choices. But in the end, it’s [node:7553373 link=Naharin;] Lite, to Ohad’s work what Editors were to Interpol. Even the costumes recall Three.

The stage crew ties the wings back to the walls, opening the room wide for the closer, by Colleen Halloran with its performers, Paige Cunningham and Dardi McGinley Gallivan. A layered work for strings by Julia Kent—one of her loop-pedal cello pieces, from the sounds of it—drives Power (in the streets), as tight and as short as one of Snooki’s favorite dresses. The two women barely make physical contact, but they’re constantly connected and minutely aware of each another. (McGinley Gallivan’s hand, outstretched, follows one of Cunningham’s passes for only just a second but the gesture is laser-guided.) The duet has the rhythms of a boxing match: Tense bursts of rapid-fire cause and effect which alternate with longer periods of strategizing, rest and wound-licking. The two dancers convey the intimacy of sisters; their bows are greeted with well-deserved hollers from a full house.

The tenth annual Other Dance Festival continues with a fourth and final program at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse September 29 and 30.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)