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(Originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune, January 28, 2001)



In the past, Chicago's NEXT Dance Festival has felt more like an eclectic showcase than a unified program of modern dance premieres. Now in its seventh year, this adventurous celebration of new choreography by local dance makers is so sharply connected that one imagines all the artists got together to plan the entire look of the program along with their individual pieces. They most likely did considering co-founder Winifred Haun's tireless efforts at bringing together the city's often divided dance community.

On opening night at the Athenaeum Theatre, NEXT's artists exhibited a laser focus, sound technique and a daring sense of invention despite a few forays into gratuitous shock.

One of the most gratifying moments of the evening was The Moose Project's intensely resonant ensemble piece, "A New Path." Choreographer Paul Abrahamson, whose past efforts to merge classical ballet with modern ideas have resulted in an oddly retrofitted aesthetic, found a profound balance in this work set to ambient sounds (newscasts, busy signals, church bells) and Dvorak's "Cello Concerto."

Eight dancers moved hypnotically across a cityscape as announcements of shootings merged into less obvious aural horrors (like an unanswered telephone). Kristin Mitchel and Paul Christiano emerged from the noise to perform an urgent yet calming duet, which spilled back into an ensemble going about its lives amid a world tottering on catastrophe.

Choreographer Margi Cole joined Douglas E. Woods in her multitiered duet, "Tell It By Heart," for The Dance COLEective. They pushed, fell, recovered, broke free and yearned all through a series of meticulously honed movements executed close to each other's body.

Same Planet Different World debuted Anna Simone Levin's compelling "Landtslayt," set to music by the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, in which Simone Levin, Joanna Rosenthal and Katie Saifuku broke through a circle of writhing anguish into a celebratory spirituality. The 58 Group, forever seeking fresh ways to combine jazz musicians and dancers, recreated the semi-structured spontaneity of a jam session in Ginger Farley's boundary-snapping "Imprint."

On the less focused end of the spectrum, choreographer Susan Hoffman's "time/fragments/remains," sent three female dancers (including herself) to wander aimlessly across a dissonant plane of psychological angst. "Per Mutations," Robin Lakes' disturbing solo for the flexible Justin Jones, tackled the subject of sexual dysfunction via a flasher. Playing his trenchcoat like the bellows of composer Astor Piazzolla's bandoneon, Jones aptly demonstrated his character's agonizing struggle, but the piece went on too long and moved in too many disjointed directions.

Inventive iconoclast Atalee Judy of Breakbone DanceCo., while aiming to make graphic statements about suicide and madness, shoved the issues too far down audiences' gullets in her blood-drenched solo, "Iogotype 00," and her Fritz Lang-inspired duet, "Iogotype 01," in which Judy and Robbie Cook - sporting shaved heads and straightjackets - flailed about against David Birdwell's achingly auteur-like projections. •
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