Ebenezer Lutheran Church where Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble (CDE) has made its home for the last four years has the same high ceilings found in most church architecture. Worshippers are encouraged to glance to the heavens high above, or to feel their smallness in relation to the deity on high. One imagines this space to feel cavernous and echoing when naked. Not the case at all when you stride in to CDE’s celebration of women—Women in Response—roughly timed with International Womens’ Day. Rather, you to may feel, as this writer did, that you had walked in from the cold to a welcoming oasis.
In the pre-performance space you are greeted by choreographer Erica Mott and her tech colleague Hugh Sato inviting you to participate in their When Words Fail capture of movement. This is a technique and program for which Mott and CDE won a MacArthur Award to export the concept to Egypt. There’s a lot of conceptual thought of recreating the kind of energy that motored Occupy Wall Street and making the equivalent of a movement tweet. You pick one of the words – freedom, resistance, democracy, revolution, etc.—and are given about 10 seconds to make your response to that word as a movement or dance. The camera of sorts captures it in a Coney Island sort of way ,that has the end effect of de-emphasizing the body originating the movement and leaving the spirit or energy of the movement bare. There is a word for this When Words Fail – and that word is COOL! From this writer’s viewpoint- this alone makes the trip to see Women in Response worthwhile, although when the audience as a whole was invited to participate in this as a finale, it didn’t surprise that the response was timid. The 4th wall had been giving the experience a snugness that few – except for the born to perform- would likely want to dispel.
In the more intimate pre-show,we were also able to meet the art curator for the event, Ana Alles, who also later performed in Michelle Shafer’s Open Wings. Alles explained that they included ALL the women artists who responded to the call for art. These Women in Response ranged in age from 23 to 70, and with an artistic range in keeping with that span.
Settling into our seats, the more professional level dancers of Kelly Anderson Dance Theatre performed their 2012 work The Little Things. A clothesline with women’s slip, undergarments and sheet is the set. First one, and then a second dancer moves from sprawled to leg extensions more on floor than biped, roiling with sheets. It feels like we are there ,as they wake in angst from a too long sleep—with that moment stretched for the duration of the performance. A third dancer is the coda. The dancers are strong and well-rehearsed.
While there were other more formally trained dancers in the remaining acts, they did not, from this writer’s perspective, reach the high professional bar set by The Little Things opener.
These are not the bionic bodies of American Ballet Theater dancers! But what they absolutely do achieve- in a community theater type way- is to draw you into a warm community celebration of women. This audience member imagines you too will feel affection for the performers—in Michelle Shafer’s Open Wings song and homage to the wisdom of we crone-and-proud, and Maggie Robison’s Onward, where younger women talk about their personal struggles to make their start in the world.
For lovers of spoken word, there is a featured poet each evening (listed below). Xandria Phillips words laced our experience‑describing twice cremated toast, her pocket filled with lint and love alone, and more. Dense with rich imagery, this audience member then craved for a written copy of her poems to study.
This performance is especially recommended for Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble neighbors and near neighbors in Andersonville, Edgewater, and Ravenswood, who can find a home of culture celebration and women celebration so close by. People who love dance but don’t enjoy the super big venues or big name draws in the Loop might also especially enjoy checking out the spirit of CDE performances. And, if you love performances that are accessible and down to earth, Women in Response should go on your short list. Top tip is to get there as soon as the doors open—soak up the art, soak up the welcoming vibe.
Performers and contributing artists:
Kelly Anderson Dance Theatre
J Lindsay Brown Dance
Erica Mott Productions
Maggie Robin with Gavyn Baxa
All photos, including slider photos-- Fernandez Foto
Fridays and Saturdays, Thru 17, 2018, 8pm
Ebenezer Lutheran Church
1650 W. Foster Avenue