April 21, 2022
Alive at SITE/Less
Zephyr experimental dance company is back in the house,specifically its home space: SITE/less in a highway adjacent neighborhood off Elston on Chicago’s north side. It’s been a long Covid hiatus for dance, and this shared concert of 4 works under the banner Not Dead Yet is a welcome toe dip in the back in the river, if an uneven emergence into our once taken for granted world of live performance.
The 90 minute show with no intermission is more of a live site specific art piece than a traditional dance concert so be forewarned: you will be advised to stand for the entire evening– and indeed with few chairs, you will not have a choice. A number of my usual plus one cultural companions have sustained disabilities through COVID and this is not a great venue for movement or sight impaired audiences or anyone with fatigue issues unless you call ahead for accommodations. You will stand in the street awaiting house opening time, then wend your way through the sculpture filled space to select your viewing area, which you will need to change throughout the pieces in order to take in all of the performance since the set turns a corner. Some of your shifting may need to occur in total darkness. The most problematic issue for me however was that the unmasked dancers move amongst and intimately close to the masked audience throughout the evening. As someone who lives and works with immunocompromised people and who is still being inordinately careful of exposures, I wish we had been warned the way they do when there are strobes or simulated gun fire.
The evening begins with dancer and choreographer Michelle Kranicke standing on the structures filling the space diligently tossing colored tissue paper and catching it, until she doesn’t, then starting again, like a high priestess completing a circumscribed ritual and not quite getting it but staying the course. The piece is called Residual Moments and Kranicke notes that it is something of a retrospective of movements drawn from past works combined with movements created alone during the pandemic. The sound and texture of the floating tissue becomes a metaphor for memories, for losses, for thoughts that do not stay. Kranicke is then joined by collaborators Joanne Barrett and Molly Strom who move in ways that suggest architecture and form at first. Later they will move in a strangely codependent way with Kranicke demonstrating a range of emotions on her face, like a zoom primer for how to respond to comments. Kranicke’s sturdy presence anchors the forays of the other two dancers as they move over, under and around the set that is a green screen construction of runways that ramp up to the sky, like a kind of artful hot wheels track. To view the work you will need to make constant readjustments of your point of view which makes the audience a part of the choreography.
The second work, Joanna Read’s Things Hidden and Left Unsaid (stage 1) by the folks at Same Planet Performance Project including dancers Enid Smith, Patrick Burns, Chloe Michels and Juli Farley, features a quartet of rose sweatsuit wearing dancers utilizing pedestrian gestures and motion like crawling along with stylized cliches like a runway walk and a hip shift to create a mosaic of motion that hints at meaning but never lands in a narrative. The dance we saw is said to be a repurposed version of a full length work– there are several false endings and several striking moments that might be amplified. This work makes full use of the set sculpture and showcases its levels and orientations by doing unison combinations on multiple heights and facing different directions.
The final two works are by sculptor, dancer and choreographer and composer Tom Brady. Gone features Brady, suspended from the ramp of one of the sculptures with a voice over that speaks a poetry of family memories. Brady resembles a white haired leprechaun and his piece returns to a theme of the evening:loss. His last piece Siege only featured himself–other evenings he will be joined by another dance so my understanding is based on the solo version. I struggled to see this piece as the lighting was extremely dim for large sections of the work. It evoked what it must be like in Kyiv right now. The fear, the lack of visibility, the struggle, and the fragility of humanity is evident in Brady’s movement.
Not Dead Yet is playing 7:30 pm April 21 through April 23, 2022 at SITE/less, 1250 West Augusta in Chicago. For tickets and information go to http://zephyrdance.com/project/not-dead-yet/