Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Presents THE SKY WAS DIFFERENT Review – Surrealism and Reality Collide

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“And then...the image” Hubbard Street dancer Andrew Murdock narrates. The image changes, shifting from room to room inside the sprawling Schweikher House, to Murdock sitting alone in a small wood paneled den, to dancers frozen like statues on the lawn outside of the house. One by one they walk through the door and take a seat inside the living room on the couch, or by the piano, a tension in the air as they shift uncomfortably in their seats. As they begin to move about the house again, we, the audience, find ourselves inside each of their stories, and inside their minds. 

In this manner, THE SKY WAS DIFFERENT, a new dance film choreographed and directed by Jonathan Fredrickson, gives the audience a glimpse inside the dancers’ personal thoughts and feelings through text, spoken word, and vignettes told through dance. 

Inside Their Heads

Each scene brings us into a different dancer's mind. Alyssa Allen flips on the radio in the living room of the Schweikher House, and it’s her own voice in conversation that begins to play back to her. “How are you feeling?” a voice asks, “I’m okay, just in my head” her recorded voice responds. She begins to move, facing a dancer standing still in front of her. She turns around to find herself facing another dancer, sandwiched between the two. She wraps her arms around herself, furling and unfurling into herself in snakelike motions. As she shifts and turns around again, she finds a different dancer standing in the same spot. It’s almost as if she is playing a game of musical chairs, finding a new person in front of her each time. There’s a sense of looping, feeling stuck in one place as she twists, “...kind of like I’m lost, kind of like I’m suspended between loneliness and fantasy,” the recording relays.

The perspective shifts to Alysia Johnson. She stares out the floor to ceiling glass window to the backyard, speaking as if someone is on the outside of the glass. “Do not look at me from outside the window and do not wave,” she says, a hint of anger in her voice. She steps back and suddenly the room is dark, and becomes stage filled with small lights like stars against the backdrop. She steps gingerly across the stage, reaching and retreating at the same time. As the solo continues, the attitude shifts, a calm confidence sets in and she moves fluidly and freely through the space, her orange dress flowing behind her as she spins.

In another vignette, we find Adam McGaw crouched behind a wall. As he stands it’s as if his feet can’t hold him, they twist and he stumbles. His posture is hunched and you too might feel his heaviness through the screen. His voice comes over the music in a recording “So where did I go? Was it an escape? Was it freedom? Was it prison? Was it the void”? And then, the scene goes black again. A darkness fills an empty room, the void that McGaw describes. He dances his solo with abandon, as if he has no control of his body.  He is unsteady and his limbs jut in different directions like a puppet moving throughout the space.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Film Is Surrealism at Play

There’s a dreamlike quality in THE SKY WAS DIFFERENT. A dancer emerges on screen, and the next moment they are gone. Shadows appear as if a real person, and turn out to be a tiny paper cut-out. Dancers are tethered together by climbing gear, and another stands balancing on a small circular wheel acting like there is nothing out of ordinary going on. The lines between reality and fantasy blur, the dancers in the film stuck inside both this house and their own minds. 

Seamless lighting, filming, and editing provide the key to creating these dreamlike scenarios. Shifts in perspective are effortless, in this reviewer’s opinion, allowing us to feel like we are both spectators looking in on the chaos unfolding inside the house, and also as if we are the dancers themselves, seeing the world from their eyes. 

Lost and Found

Opposition is a driving force in THE SKY WAS DIFFERENT. Themes of connectivity and disjointedness— being both stuck and moving forward; both lost and found— come to the forefront. It is at times chaotic and complex, yet there are also moments of simplicity, breath, and beauty. The film speaks to how many of us have felt throughout this year, at least this was the case for this reviewer. All of us longing to understand the why and how, but not sure what to do, or how to move forward. THE SKY WAS DIFFERENT is a reminder that life can be all of the above; connected, disjointed, chaotic, simple, messy, and beautiful. 


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Concept & Choreography: Jonathan Fredrickson
Directors: Jonathan Fredrickson & Tobin Del Cuore
Original Music Composition: Oleg Stepanov

Film Runtime: 50 minutes







For more information and tickets please visit the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago website.

Photos: Tobin Del Cuore

Full disclosure: The author of this review, Hayley Ross, worked in the marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago from August 2016-November 2019.

Find more Picture This Post dance reviews in the latest roundup — CHOREOGRAPHERS WE LOVE. Also, watch a short preview video here —

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