Why does it not surprise to read that ATE9 founder and GaGa-schooled choreographer Danielle Agami lists Stephen Colbert as her dream composer??
Searing intelligence, humor showing improv instincts, hyper-awareness of dimensions most of us barely perceive--it would seem that Agami and Colbert would make quite the creative couple. Then again, percussionist composer Glenn Kotche isn’t even remotely what one would call chopped liver.
They opened with what sounded like bird calls that then took on rhythmic proportions and became Kotche’s symphonic dissection of beats from high-pitched whining saws, xylophone, drums, bells, sticks on sticks and sticks on Auditorium Theater stage floor, and more. Meanwhile, the 9 dancers who presumably make the baseball team requisite 9 count of ATE9 broke from upright posture in chair poses to explorations of boundaries we didn’t even know existed.
Here we are seeing yet another GaGa-movement exploration, titled calling glenn, this one seeming to be poking holes in an imagined boundary between feral and mechanical. “Freeze!” we imagine Agami saying when her nine dancers are put into time suspension angled poses. Not your grandmother’s duets, these pairs are always playing off the other’s center of gravity or becoming hoops the other must jump through. Most fun of all, at least for this transfixed reviewer, was when now red dress clad dancer Jobel Medina grabs the virtual microphone and with his one person becomes a crowd.
Perhaps an hour, ATE9 mesmerizes in what the program notes explain, in so many words, is a movement treatise on desire for freedom vs. longing for repetition and ritual.
Auditorium Theatre Unites Three Diverse Dance Expressions
This was the finale performance in an evening of contemporary dance that had already been electrifying.
First up was Chicago’s own DEEPLY ROOTED DANCE THEATER (DRDT), performing three works in succession and without pause‑Until Lambs Become Lions, Church of Nations, and Heaven.
Is Nina Simone here and singing live?
Even before they began dancing the vibrancy of Nina Simone’s voice singing Isn’t It a Pity snapped us into attention. “Did the Auditorium Theater’s ongoing restoration efforts start with a sound system spruce up?, others too may have similarly wondered. As Simone’s lamenting voice fills the grand hall, four women dancers let their bodies give voice, so to speak, to the subtitle – Healing Reflections- of this 2014 work choreographed by Nicole Clarke Springer. The movements seem to shout GUT WRENCHING—at times quite literally, as the women twist their dresses into knots and move as if just serially punched in their abdomens.
The two works that followed were similarly more literal than as abstract, something this reviewer imagines makes DRDT’s work more accessible to a wider audience. DRDT’s co-founder Kevin Iega Jeff created Church of Nations in 1991, shining a light on how religious leaders go along with wars at odds with the tenets of their faith. Here, the large DRDT ensemble acts out this clerical complicity writhing in and out of their chairs in such a way that they ever focus us on the one empty chair, symbolizing the pastors who wouldn’t play along. Memorably, at one point they seem like a mob of Lady Macbeths, not able to wipe their hands clean of the blood they have unleashed.
DRDT’s finale piece, after these two more somber notes, was an especially joyful expression, with torsos often rippling to the music in ways that 60’s speak would have just summarized as “groovy”. In this writer’s view, the colorful long skirt costumes by Nathan Rohrer went a long way to communicating the affect of this 2004 choreography by DRDT’s co-founders, Keving Iega Jeff and Gary Abbott, in this aptly named work, Heaven.
Editor’s Note: Look soon for a preview of an upcoming December DRDT performance where Chicagoans will get another chance to see Heaven performed.
Rounding out the evening was Visceral Dance Chicago’s new work Soft Spoken, subtitled If they try love, they’ll understand. From the very opening we are riveted by dancers streaking across the stage and especially by the female dancers seeming to use their bodies in a game of chicken never giving way that as they charge ahead that they will be lifted by a random male dancer coming in the other direction. Random is the operative word, and as the couples become duets we are struck by how unstable their coupling is, by the jerkiness of movements as they approach each other in angles that speak more to allergy than affinity. At one point Sinatra croons Strangers in the Night and we forget all the velvet smooth duet dances we have seen before to this tune, and instead perhaps smile at the rather cynical explication of romance some of us may have heard that goes The screws in his head matched the holes in yours. At the conclusion of this piece, in lieu of bows, the dancers wide-eyed and roaming, stroll into the audience as though still in a stunned hunt for their mate. It was an electric moment meeting the dancers up close that way.
For more information on upcoming dance performances at Auditorium Theatre bookmark the Auditorium Theatre website.
And to keep track of future performances by these three dance troupes and to note their next scheduled performances, bookmark—
Photos: Top slider and other ATE9 - Cheryl Mann; all Deeply Rooted Dance by Ken Carl; Visceral Dance photos/bottom slider by Michelle Reid