Editor’s Note: The author of this review, Picture this Post Associate Dance editor/dancer Hayley Ross, is also part of the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago administration, handling their marketing. She is not in the employ of Robyn Mineko Williams.
Robyn Mineko Williams brings dance to unconventional spaces with her Undercover Episodes installations popping up in bars, galleries, warehouses, and even apartments this summer, and most recently Pilsen’s Tack Room.
Inside the Tack Room
Beginning on the sidewalk in front of Pilsen’s Tack Room at Thalia Hall, dancers Adrienne Lipson and Michael Gross begin a playful dance of familiar gestures nodding to childhood games. The two translate games of Rock-Paper-Scissors and Hopscotch into their contemporary dance, a light and playful smile on Lipson’s face as they move together. The two lead the audience inside the Tack Room where the audience first sees dancer Elliot Hammans. Hammans dances on and under booths and chairs, delicately navigating through the crowds, slinking and sliding along the floor and walls.
The audience follows the dancers downstairs to find seats along a bar or in large circular booths. Lipson, Hammans, and Gross move up and down the narrow aisle giving each audience member a glimpse of the dance. At times, the dancers interact with the audience; Hammans slides into a booth, or sits at the bar with the rest of the audience. An audience member is pulled up to stand on a chair for all to see. Words are projected on his shirt, asking the audience to nod or shake their head along with the beat.
Lipson and Gross perform another energetic and light-hearted duet, this time doing disco movements while purple and blue lights shine around them, laughing and smiling the whole way through. Hammans also performs an intricate solo sitting at the bar, his reflection projected on the wall behind him. Once again the dancers disappear to another room, this time by opening a door disguised as a bookcase.
The magic of William’s Undercover Episodes, in this writer’s view, is the seamless trajectory of the performance. Each portion moves effortlessly into the next; the dancers lead the audience into a new space but continue to dance throughout and the audience never feels lost or wonders where they are supposed to be. Each space is set in a way that allows audience members to see what’s happening almost all the time without getting up out of their seat or needing to move. The dancers are extremely close without being intimidating or uncomfortable for the audience member. The performance feels inviting and intriguing.
The music, lighting, and projection elements also feel natural while still highly curated and thought out. Music selections sync perfectly with the dancers’ movements and transitions between vignettes performed by different dancers and a few production team members shine handheld spotlights on the dancers as they move. It all feels extremely intentional, while still being effortless.
Up-Close and Personal
Seeing Lipson, Hammans, and Gross perform up-close is a treat for anyone, and especially those who might recognize them from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performances. The dancers are technically flawless both in their movements and expression. Seeing the dancers facial expressions in each segment feels authentic, from Gross and Lipsons’ playful disco scene to a more serious duet between Lipson and Hammans, the dancers perform from the tip of their toes up through their eyes.
By this reviewer’s lights, Undercover Episodes are the future of contemporary dance. The performances are accessible to a wide range of audiences (even those who may not even know they were attending!), and provide a unique opportunity to view dance in a completely different way.
These effortlessly cool Undercover Episodes uniquely immerse the audience in an exclusive and highly curated performance. The audience becomes a part of the experience themselves, sometimes encouraged to participate through prompts or simply through the up-close experience of seeing and interacting with the dancers in the space. While William’s summer series of Undercover Episodes has concluded, new performances are popping up constantly.
Dancers: Elliot Hammans, Michael Gross, Adrienne Lipson
Choreography: Robyn Mineko Williams
Visit Undercover Episodes website to learn more and view upcoming Episodes.
Photos courtesy of Robyn Mineko Williams
About the Author:
Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hayley began dancing at the age of four. She has studied Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, and African dance and regularly can be found taking dance and Pilates at Chicago's Lou Conte Dance Studio. Hayley has completed internships at CityScene Media Group, OhioDance, the Chautauqua Institution, and American Dance Festival. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Marketing Manager. Learn more about Hayley at hayleyross.weebly.com