Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre | Dance review

Adam Gauzza of Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre in rehearsal for IT is What it IS by Joanna Rosenthal

Adam Gauzza of Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre in rehearsal for IT is What it IS by Joanna Rosenthal Photograph: Vin Reed

A recent conversation with a friend turned to how, with exceptions, collaborations are rare between Chicago’s distinctly trained, virtuosic bodies and deeply inquisitive, risky and unique choreographers. Feel free to argue the shit out of that assertion in the comments.

Same Planet, as it’s commonly and less syllabically known, is one group that does fine work in splitting the difference. Over the course of its 90-minute program at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, you can see a caffeinated, post-Cunningham, limited-palette formal exercise (The Drift League); a sharply constructed, almost painfully self-aware dance-theater experiment (Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times #5: Lavish Possession); an idiosyncratic, expressive women’s duet (After Many Years); and something that’s to Weimar cabaret what Oldenburg’s Floor Burger is to a hamburger.

Are they all presented without flaw? No. Do they look good? Yes. Do they balance concept and execution such that one doesn’t succeed at the other’s expense? Damned well.

Drift was made for the troupe in 2007 by NYC dancer-choreographer Ashleigh Leite, to astringent clicks and bass washes from Pan Sonic. It’s a difficult piece and its latest cast struggles a bit. (Granted, one of its three members, SPDW artistic director Joanna Rosenthal, is four months pregnant. You wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t told you.) Its ideas still come across and it’s still a compelling, if strange and frenzied, mechanical dance. Paige Cunningham Caldarella nails the delivery of Drift’s central event: the long-denied release of the dancers’ arms into articulation. (They’re pinned at the start to the dancers’ sides by wide purple belts.)

In the role Rosenthal originated in Years (2004, made in collaboration with Colleen Halloran and Katie Saifuku La Varre) Erin Kilmurray gets Rosenthal’s signature movement quality down pat. It’s a remarkable example of visible lineage. The duet, with Liz Jenkins in La Varre’s role, comes across as conventional with these neighbors but has a wonderful dynamic range. If Drift is a one-note samba, then Years, to Balanesque Quartet’s roiling “Want Me,” is a symphony.

That same signature quality is all over IT is What it IS, Rosenthal’s new work and the show’s closer. No one jump-cuts from gesture to gesture quite like Rosenthal can; IT would be disjointed but somehow the progression feels oddly logical and sparks laughs. The work’s three performers—Adam Gauzza, Trevor Szuba-Schneider and Abby Suskin, in sexy circus fashions—paint a queer threesome that’s fun to observe even if it’s not (figuratively) fully framed or well-lit. Also: Adam Gauzza can sing, you guys.

The new quartet in Peter Carpenter’s Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times series occupies most squarely that elusive sweet spot between investigative and virtuosic. Carpenter’s four avatars—Gauzza, Jenkins, Suskin and Santo Scavuzzo—are in and out of the piece simultaneously, embodying its dance phrases while commenting on them via “notes from the choreographer” spoken aloud. They relish the luxury of their performance and quote from rehearsals for it, bodily and vocally. They also cross-examine the assumptions and implications of a career in concert dance. “I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege,” Gauzza tells us for Carpenter.

No one jump-cuts from exalting in the pure joy of movement, to facing the sublimated questions it surfaces, quite like this ever-inventive dance maker. Brief tracks of original music by Michael Caskey are similarly knowing and self-effacing; Julie Ballard’s lighting scheme is full of lovely little noons, dawns and dusks.

Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre’s 15th-anniversary program continues through March 10 at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)