Walking…Drifting: Live review
With their their second split bill, “Walking…Drifting,” local companies Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World really showed their similarities. I felt like I was watching a single, larger company, one the size of Luna Negra or River North. (They could merge, I guess, although I don’t see that happening.) The intersection between their athletic, contemporary styles is an appetite for space. Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater boasts one of Chicago dance’s biggest stages—although, paradoxically, one of its smallest houses—yet it frequently felt small, as dancers ran its perimeter, and tumbled diagonally across it in seconds as though it were the deck of a sinking ship. Returning Hedwig repertory Dust (For Jack), by Andrea Miller, and the new Drifting for Nomads, by Same Planet director Joanna Rosenthal, pressed especially firmly against the windowed walls, and came toe-to-toe with the front row. All 13 performers danced ravenously; some of this city’s more established institutions could learn from their urgency.
All was in service of one of this fall’s most consistent mixed bills, with no duds or filler. Rosenthal has explored the driven, sisterly energy of female duet Anthem before, but never with such a gentle hand on the edge between compassion and competition. As danced by herself and Same Planet stalwart Connie Fagan, it was room-chewing Rosenthal at her hard-driving, angular and unpredictable best. Dressed in matching navy shorts and flirty one-shouldered tops, the pair revealed lighter moments with increasing frequency (stuttering hops, buckling knees, and the most sincere smiles I’ve seen at a dance show in ages), but the mood overall was doggedly goal-oriented and, thanks to their Andrews-caliber visual harmonies, there was real tension about who’d get there—wherever it was—first. Its score, an Architecture in Helsinki song, recalled Faye Driscoll in choice and interpretation.
Walking, a world premiere by Hedwig member Michel Rodriguez, was just as kinesthetically hungry, but took smaller bites. He also dances his own work, providing a valuable frame of reference, but the movement world was consistent nonetheless; fellow cast members Justin Deschamps, Jessie Gutierrez and Maray Gutierrez were nearly as fluent within it as Rodriguez was himself. (Miller’s influence was there, too and, by extension, Naharin’s.) Many of the quartet’s moves seemed to come from a yank on some invisible drawstring; bodies would pucker around a point, like a sphincter or fist, then release, often into the floor for a face-down slide. Whereas Rosenthal is a musician who plays the skeleton and muscles, Rodriguez’s palette is ligaments, tendons and light. Some of Walking’s choices, like the oddly-mismatched costumes, felt experimental, but that’s okay: I’d rather watch someone explore the possibilities than pretend they know what they’re doing.
Those cinches of the body in Walking reappeared in Ginger Farley’s Beckon (1994), only just one, much more slowly, and its release never quite came. Fagan, in a soft, ribbon-trimmed dress, entered backward to Jessye Norman singing Strauss, initiating a seamless series of events that turned her body in on itself. This solo is distally initiated, internally rotated, and en dedans at every opportunity, a quiet disappearing act, or dancer-as-singularity. Its second part, to Sarah Vaughan, began the reversal, a loosening of the grip. By its end, Fagan may not have become what you’d call an extrovert, but does manage to stand there posed sideways like an advertisement (is it Vaughan’s era?) and look us in the eye.
Critics who’ve reviewed this show already have stated that Drifting for Nomads looks cyclone-blown, but I thought the omnidirectional tumbling and flinging seemed more the result of rough seas. When the first opportunity for stability presented itself, the six dancers immediately converged and held hands for their best attempt at a united front against whatever malicious, unseen force (Rosenthal’s said the work is about our shit economy). More tumbling ensued, and the dissolving of another fragile line, but when the next calm came, the dancers remained alone or protectively coupled up. Looking at each other while retreating, they seemed to accept a choice, for themselves, of who was to blame in lieu of losing any more cooperation to weathering the storm.
“Walking…Drifting,” a joint production of Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre, closes November 12 at Hamlin Park Fieldhouse.