Soon after watching a video projection of dancer Elliot Hammans emerging from a curtained back cubby of sorts, he danced into the cleared main space of Bucktown’s Charleston Bar. He seemed to be gliding the walls like a blind person might, his tactile explorations raising a curtain in our minds’ eye about how dancers feel the space with something other than vision.
Hammans’ moves to Robyn Mineko Williams’ choreography seemed to underline an awareness of the space that likely all in the long rectangular room already felt. Here we were in midday, in the back of a bar, with windows purposely darkened so that the small lights being hand-carried as spotlights on the action could have effect. With the painted ornate tin ceiling above, and the darkened floor below, this roving spotlight more than sufficed to frame the action.
Soon, Jacqueline Burnett and Michael Gross danced down the length of the space, seeming to echo Hammans’ sensing explorations of the room, but now as though they were doing a spider tango feeling each others’ contours. Gross would seem take measure of the angles in Burnett’s face and body, then extending them out into space.
From walls, to cornice to couple—the flow became a beat, and then bigger beats still, with rhythmic gyrations playfully taking our attention from the space to the three dancers before us—inches before us!—and at times when they moved the length of the rectangular space, back to an awareness of the site.
This interplay between the space and dancers had actually started on the bright summer sidewalk, with projections inside tempting us to the street, and then settling us back in, as the dancers defined the inside space by taking it over.
Those of us who have long admired these three dancers from Hubbard Street Dance Company, felt electric joy watching them perform in arm’s reach—perhaps pheromone-powered.
Even home movies of Robyn Mineko Williams as a dancing child
It certainly didn’t hurt that in this first family-friendly Undercover Episode, about a third of the audience were just a few minutes older than toddlers and seeming totally at one with the scene, even before the bubble machine took over or an interlude of musical chairs gave smiles. Cooler still were the projections on the wall of Robyn Mineko Williams circa five years old or so, showing that she had the dance moxie moves even then, along with her besties, some of whom were in the audience too.
What a cool idea! –and with cooler moves still.
It gets even better if you can hang around a bit to talk to the performers and creative team. How fun to chat a bit with Jacqueline Burnett to be struck by how warm her smile and person is!
This writer can think of no other dance performance that has made the art form as accessible to all as Undercover Episodes. Originally created by Williams in 2015 at New York City’s Baryshnikov Art Center via a Princess Grace Foundation grant, this performance in the ‘hood was one of many in locations throughout Chicago – from private homes, bars, warehouses and more.
Beyond site-specific, this is site-sensitive dance. It’s difficult to imagine that any restaurateur, pub owner, or other owner of a recreation space wouldn’t beat down Williams’ door begging for a sequel in their space.
Robyn Mineko Williams choreography is now being performed by a long roster of the bests in dance nationwide. To find out more about her and where you can see her work next, visit the Robyn Mineko Williams’ website.
Choreographer: Robyn Mineko Williams
Dancers: Jacqueline Burnett, Michael Gross, Elliot Hammans
Photos: Todd Rosenberg