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Dance Commentary:

"SOLOWORKS: IN THE COMPANY OF COURAGE" at Links Hall

BY LUCIA MAURO

The name of the women dance-artist mentorship program created by experimental dancer-choreographer Asimina Chremos at Links Hall sounds like one of those cringingly triumphant Hollywood historic epics. But "SoloWorks: In the Company of Courage" – held Jan. 18-27 – was more of a minimalist masterpiece.

It featured four new solos created and performed by well-respected multidisciplinary modern dancer-choreographer Shirley Mordine, together with three of her students who are now professional Chicago artists: Ann Boyd, a director-choreographer with Redmoon Theatre and Running With Scissors; Colleen Halloran, a writer-choreographer with her text-based Colleen Halloran Performance Group; and Atalee Judy, a radically issues-oriented sound designer-choreographer of Breakbone DanceCo.

The hour-length performance, while very much an homage to the daring, boundary-less vision of Mordine (who founded the Dance Center of Columbia College in 1969 and heads her own troupe Mordine & Company), was rewarding for its exploration of the teacher-student continuum.

Each one of Mordine’s former proteges exhibited a refreshing curiosity and engaging ability to illuminate their divergent voices. They all showed that dance is not restricted to movement. Rather movement can exist in visual-sound collages, in design and in spoken word. Most importantly, all of them had something meaningful to say –even if one did not wholeheartedly favor their performance styles.

Ann Boyd’s "Hunting Butterflies" – incorporating balloons shaped into fingers and attached to little stands scattered throughout the floor – plunged audiences into a sad and lyrical time capsule. Entering in a billowy white dress with a heavy spool on her back in labored steps, Boyd embodied a seamstress trying to stitch together the vagaries of time. Her performance piece included a scratchy recording of her father playing "Easter Parade" in 1946 – both haunting and uplifting as it addressed how the ephemeral can be grounded in our hearts.

In "all things," Colleen Halloran employed her characteristic blend of self-deprecating wit, pop-culture kitsch and profound observation as she detailed in words and gentle athletic movements her first Chicago marathon. Against the backdrop of the "Rocky" theme, she painted a quirky, grueling and empowering portrait of one’s ability to fake it well yet wrestling with the fear of being found out; the need to feel unique or special; and the will to engage in an activity that makes one more alive. Halloran could just stand in front of an audience and tell her multitiered yet unobtrusive stories, which tap into a collective self-awareness.

Anyone unfamiliar with Atalee Judy’s brand of stage rage, most likely would have found her "logotype 03" piece – part of a series on emotionally tough topics like mental illness, suicide and genocide – shocking and disturbing. I myself continue to vacillate between feeling violently pushed away and getting absorbed in Judy’s sound- and video-heavy solos, which graphically tackle subjects in her self-described "bodyslam" technique.

But "logotype 03," which addressed dual themes of female image via bathroom visuals and the murder of women via spine-chilling flashes of crime photos, delivered a palpable cry for change. Judy, sporting a shaved head and men’s underwear, contorted in visual and aural torment and, by the end, collapsed into a cry of anguish so soulful, she seemed to be mourning all societal injustices over the ages. That was reason enough to pay attention – no matter how off-putting and occasionally self-indugent Judy’s performance might be.

The evening concluded with Shirley Mordine’s Dario Fo-inspired movement biography, "American Stories." She opened by outlining her body with her finger – as if to "write" her own experiences on her limbs while recounting them in delightfully candid terms. But Mordine, who spoke more than she executed difficult combinations, conveyed her interest in the tragically absurd – even ironing her clothes (while they were still on her body) with a miniature iron on a miniature board.

But within this Italianate absurdist framework, Mordine revealed dark and troubling secrets about sexual abuse and coping with being "well-endowed" at a young age. These revelations never took on whiny or angry dimensions. Instead they pointed to a larger dysfunctional sensibility fostered by a society that often prefers to bask in hypocrisy than show its true – and often hideous -- colors.

Ultimately, "SoloWorks" demonstrated the myriad forms of expression that fall under the dance umbrella and proved how a teacher can instill in her students the fearlessness to invent new ones.•

For more information on Links Hall’s ongoing "Women Mentors in Dance and Performance Series," running through May 16, call 773-281-0824. Links Hall is located at 3435 N. Sheffield.

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