In 2016, the Chicago Cultural Center presented the exhibition Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen. Built by the Dutch inventor since 1990 and described by their maker as “new forms of life,” strandbeests surpass their man-made material—PVC pipes—to become something animate and other, each with dozens of narrow yellow legs. Simultaneously archaic and advanced, these intricate skeletons of multifarious joints are part animal, part machine, transforming wind to will as they scuttle independently across the wide white beaches of the Netherlands (or, with a little human help, across the Yates Gallery).
If a strandbeest wished to dance, it would surely move like Somewhere Between, choreographed by Alice Klock and Florian Lochner, collectively known as FLOCK & Artists. Presented at the Dance Center of Columbia College from March 23 to 25, Somewhere Between was FLOCK’s first fully-fledged production in Chicago and a homecoming of sorts for Klock and Lochner, who first began to create together as dancers and choreographic fellows at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2017. With dancers Liane Aung, Robert Rubama, Emily Krenik, and Kevin J. Shannon (also formerly of HSDC), Klock and Lochner, uniformly costumed in teal onesies with gray socks, created an hour with an atmosphere both ancient and contemporary, beneath gorgeously evocative lighting by Julie E. Ballard (another alumna of HSDC).
With a quality that is both liquid and articulated, jointed and limbed throughout, the interlocking partnering among the dancers, who move as if with one pulse to an ambient soundscape, produce forms that evolve and develop like watching an agave bloom in the fluctuating luminescence of a desert sky. Moments of simultaneity and abstract form (and the persistence of a balletic lineage) cede to the sudden tenderness of an embrace. Again and again, dancers take turns to sit or stand outside the action to witness the others—a gesture of self-consciousness within a work that offers so many unisons, coincidences, and correspondences.
The mood was jubilant Saturday night at the opening of Sans Pareil, the presentation of the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project’s second cohort in concert at the Logan Center for the Arts March 25 and 26. Saturday’s program began with projections on three walls of the theater sharing snapshots of Chicago’s history of Black dances, dancers, and dance companies as Uchi Omoniyi played a piercing opening on Guinean fulani flute.
Najwa Dance Corps’s Wolosodun, a West African dance with drumming and a projection of huts in the background, was a spirited opening choreographed by Assane Konte, followed by the jazzy syncopations of M.A.D.D. Rhythms, all shod in silver shoes for their Hoofin’ It Suite, choreographed by the company members and performed with pizzazz to music by Anita O’Day, Oscar Peterson, and Duke Ellington. The preternaturally light-footed Bril Barrett left the stage with a flurry of fast taps and a smile, only to be succeeded by the thunderous bass of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater dancing to Culoe De Song in an excerpt of Nicole Clarke-Springer’s powerful Madonna Anno Domini, in which the ensemble seems overtaken by the force of an explosion, a storm filled with tension and compression, sometimes trembling, sometimes launched into the world by will alone.
After intermission, Joel Hall’s Widows, danced by Drew Lewis and Dorianne Thomas, begins with Thomas lying on the floor, a piece of fabric covering her head as she extends an arm upward. In a duet with Lewis that combines technical precision with outré expression, the two engage in a power struggle that is sometimes seductive, sometimes literally violent. In the end, she leaves him shrouded in a gauzy white fabric, glitter littering the floor like so many broken teeth.
Following some quick and nicely choreographed cleanup came The Era Footwork Crew: Brandon “Chief Manny” Calhoun, Jemal “P-Top” De La Cruz, Sterling “Steelo” Lofton, and Jamal “Litebulb” Oliver, in Broken Heart, a choreographed piece set to music by DJ Spinn. The work is abstract, the structure composed of solos and canons, showcasing the slide, float, slap, and speed of Chicago footwork. The program closed with Muntu Dance Theatre in Liberté, a Guinean dance choreographed by Idy Ciss, a celebratory send-off, and a blessing and beginning for this cohort of ten companies (including Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center & Hiplet Ballerinas, Forward Momentum Chicago, Move Me Soul, and Praize Productions, Inc., which performed Sunday) as they work together in upcoming years.
Program B, 3/30-4/2, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Edlis Neeson Theater, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, hubbardstreetdance.com, $15-$95
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago closed Program A of their spring series Elements at the MCA this Sunday, dancing a mixed bill of works by Lar Lubovitch, Kyle Abraham, Thang Dao, and Aszure Barton. Danced in mustard sneakers before a backdrop of the image of a Jackson Pollock painting, Lubovitch’s Coltrane’s Favorite Things (2010) felt retro in its 70s-ish balletic take on jazz and a bit like forced cheer to open the program. Like the replica of the painting hovering in the background, the work was stripped of dimension, mostly relentlessly energetic, though certain performers, especially Alexandria Best and Shota Miyoshi, who charmed in a playful and delightfully matched duet, transcended the monotony and made the work their own.
In contrast, Abraham’s Show Pony (2018), danced flawlessly by Abdiel Figueroa Reyes, is futuristic and fast, a short solo in a silver unitard, danced with intensity to music by JLin. In the Sunday matinee, Reyes was sinuous and elegant, seamlessly weaving elements of vogue and krump with ballet in a dazzlingly virtuosic expression. Mechanical and mercurial, sometimes quick as a blur, other times chiseled into space, it was impossible to separate the dancer from the dance.
Nevermore, a world premiere by Dao, blends Edgar Allan Poe’s famous Raven, croaking “nevermore” as a lover wishes for his lost Lenore, with the Cowherd and the Weavegirl, an Asian myth of lovers who meet once a year upon the bridge of the Milky Way—a curious combination on the condition of longing. Every inch of Poe’s trochaic octameter is recited in the score composed by James G. Lindsay—and, on Sunday, interpreted with brilliant emphasis in American Sign Language by Veramarie Baldoza, adding another layer to the stories conveyed in this work and another mediation of the pulse of the music’s telltale heart. In long black dresses with scarlet socks, the company embodied ravens as a hungry flock, beaks ready to peck out eyes in dark duets. Elliot Hammans and Jacqueline Burnett, wearing filmy costumes in white and red, distanced by a dark universe, unite to dance a brief ballet.
Barton’s BUSK (2009), which is also featured in Program B March 30–April 2, is simply a masterpiece, a vision of a Gothic cathedral come to life, a deeply human portrait, vaudevillesque and holy, with movements that range from the gestural to the godly. It must be witnessed—and upon seeing, demands seeing again.