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(Originally appeared in The Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2001)



Themes of self-reflection and female bonding reigned during the NEXT Dance Festival's third program Sunday at the Athenaeum Theatre, featuring new works by choreographers making their NEXT debut. The artists' intriguing use of boundary-sweeping music/sound design reinforced how a piece's aural environment can partner with movement to unveil evocative ideas.

Celebrating its seventh year of promoting established and emerging Chicago choreographers, NEXT has developed into a fluid experimental event. While several pieces on Sunday's bill evoked an agonized sameness, they demonstrated solid compositional ideas and an unconventional use of space.

In "Ways?," Lauri Stallings and Ron DeJesus of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago were intrinsically connected to Barry Bennett's live stream-of-consciousness percussive score. A mesmerizing work enveloped in the creative process, it seemed to unfold before our eyes as Stallings, DeJesus, and HSDC's Kendra Moore and Greg Sample eloquently executed their interior monologues. It was the most psychologically complex and strongly executed piece on the program, with Stallings and Moore taking their flawless pointe work to new elastic dimensions.

The Anatomical Theatre, whose aesthetic is rooted in obscure but prescient medical history, combined the ominous and whimsical in "Galvani's Grenouille," choreographed by Robynne M. Gravenhorst and Christain Gochenour. Based on 18th century Italian physician Luigi Galvani's electrical experiments with frogs, this period-precise theatrical exploration - performed by the choreographers and LeAnne Vancil - emitted a powerful sense of comic uneasiness. The tormented "frogs" later resurfaced as French troops invading Galvani's native Bologna.

Bril Barrett and his five M.A.D. Rhythms dancers created an exhilarating swirl of free-form tapping, which reached a bold conversational crescendo.

On the less imaginative and unfinished side were Colleen Halloran's meandering trio, "For Three," and her unenlightening solo, "Beacon" for Pamela McNeil. Laurel Moore's "Cycle of Woven Time" evoked a grounded ritualistic allure but opened in a lackluster void.

During NEXT's second program on Thursday, moments of raw exploration shared space with polished, large-scale complexity.

There was not a wasted gesture in choreographer Winifred Haun's "One Among Us" - with original music by David Pavkovic - for Winifred Haun & Dancers. Based on Remedios the Beauty (a pixie-esque Karen Moses), a divinely non-conformist character from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude," it merged a grave calm with the delirious profundity of the magical- realist tradition. Haun's fabric-ensconced sprites - Jyl Fehrenkamp, Matthew Hollis and Tori Taylor - of "In the Night of Never Departing," toggled between primordial beings and aliens undergoing menacingly erotic transformations.

Other standouts included Paula Frasz's forboding yet winkingly theatrical "The Old Woman of Wexford" - a folk-inspired trio in which Frasz, the chameleon-like Matthew Hollis and Michael McStraw danced a precarious love triangle in deconstructed Martha Graham fashion; and Peter Sciscioli's memory-themed solo, "ripple," for the supple Katie Calandra, whose semi-improvised movements segued from loosely primal to painstakingly exact. •
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