Live review: CDI/Concert Dance, Inc. 30th Anniversary Program
If the last and newest work on is any indication, CDI/Concert Dance, Inc. is entering its thirties with experience and spontaneity in good balance.
Artistic director Venetia Stifler and her nine-member ensemble created Controlled Chaos in collaboration, to silence, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. As Stifler described the process in an interview with Vicki Crain, she’s “editor-in-chief” among a team of choreographers that includes Maray Gutierrez and Michel Rodriguez of Hedwig Dances, Mad Shak collaborator Benjamin Law, and Amy Wilkinson, a Loyola dance instructor and codirector of the After School Matters Dance Ensemble.
Chaos neatly collects and displays this range of talent, a giddy chain reaction of idiosyncratic compositions and gestures broken only by an expendable bit of unison. Boxes of white light (by scene stalwart Jacob Snodgrass) and plain togs in scrub-like blues and greens (by Myron Elliott) foil its antics by suggesting a hospital, and as the piece progresses, its leitmotif—twisting back and forth while standing, each body like the agitator in a washing machine—appears with increasing frequency. The material is great and so is the editing, with an energy reminiscent of Doug Varone. Even its bows are ingeniously composed.
Preceding pieces Meetings Along the Edge (2007) and The Day of the Rope (2005) also engage but are closer to average. The first begins with a female duet, titled “Beginnings,” by Gutierrez and Erin Polanshek to Iranian pop music wherein each passes through the other’s space as if it’s a turnstile. Stiff and flattened hands are held above the eyes like giant eyelashes, beside them like a horse’s blinders, or at the temples like the wings on Mercury’s cap.
Its second section, called “The Meeting,” is a quintet by different dancers to one of Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s collaborations. Meetings comes to a boil with some bravura technique from Rodriguez, but its cultural references feel random—each dancer wears a purplish kameez, also by Elliott—and it strangely avoids the edges of the stage.
In 1877, four years before the vaudeville house in which Rope premiered was built, four men were hanged nearby during the height of violence in the coal-mining communities of northeastern Pennsylvania. Stifler and her group at the time created the work’s dance sections to Irish folk songs, sung beautifully a capella by Kathy Cowan. Before the piece begins, Cowan leads the audience in a sing-along, drawing us into the era of the Molly Maguires with lyrics of Irish pride in the face of work notices appended with NINA.
Rope begins evocatively and hauntingly: The dancers take a darkened stage wearing headlamps, snuffing them out one by one as their characters’ names are read. But the seven dances that follow don’t illuminate this hotly disputed history and timely subject matter. (A coincidence, Stifler clarified in her introduction—Rope’s revival was planned in advance of labor turmoil in Wisconsin.) It’s just an eerily quiet work, like a well returning no sound after a stone is thrown in.