Dance Performances Incorporate Other Art Forms

March 2, 2010

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The Seldoms. Photo by Dan Merlo.
Movement may be the core element of dance. But dancers have long collaborated with artists from other disciplines, from film to design. For WBEZ, dance critic Lucia Mauro brings us two local dance companies who not only draw from but make other art forms their focus.

On Stage:
Evanston Dance Ensemble
Cinematic
Mar. 5-7
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

The Seldoms
Marchland
Mar. 12-14
Museum of Contemporary Art Theater

Evanston Dance Ensemble has titled its latest mixed-rep program Cinematic. So even though audiences will be watching a live dance concert, they'll really feel like they're at the Multiplex viewing a western here, a thriller there, a romantic comedy, even a movie musical. Co-artistic directors Bea Rashid and Christina Ernst invited an eclectic group of Chicago choreographers to point their own individual dance lens into the world of film. They then crafted original dances inspired by a film genre, composer, director, actor or a specific movie. The result is a smart and fresh approach to cinematic storytelling that also offers up some offbeat takes on movie history.

In her theatrical ballet, Western Women, Bea Rashid portrays familiar female Wild West types, like the young prairie wife struggling to build a life out of dust and prayers, and the tough saloon girl who can handle herself and a rifle. The movement was influenced by Agnes DeMille's groundbreaking cowgirl ballet, Rodeo, from 1942.The last section is choreographed to the music of iconic spaghetti-western composer Ennio Morricone. It captures the wide vistas of the frontier, along with the quiet determination of these women to persevere.

Choreographer Allison Kurtz gives an unexpected modern twist to the suspense genre. Her Hitchcock Blondes unites on stage Alfred Hitchcock's notoriously cool, sexy heroines portrayed by Kim Novak, Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman. And who could forget Tippi Hedron fighting off killer birds in her perfectly pressed green couture suit? The dancers pare down these famous women to their sensual and unflappable essence as they perform against a soundscape that mixes Blondie's Heart of Glass with found sound, like high-heeled footsteps. Kurtz even plays on Hitchcock's proclivity to make cameo appearances in his own movies. The director's voice pokes through the score, and as a group, the dancers visually recreate his rotund profile.

Harrison McEldowney, a lover of all things nostalgic, celebrates classic Hollywood movie musicals in The Golden Era. His high-energy salute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and West Side Story blends the original music with cover versions of these recognizable tunes. It all leads up to a glitzy, flamboyant Rockettes-style finale.

Evanston Dance Ensemble performs Cinematic March 5-7 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

In her new performance, called Marchland, Carrie Hanson merges post-modern dance with visual artist Fraser Taylor's filmic approach to experimental art. The Chicago choreographer, who heads the multimedia dance company The Seldoms, was drawn to Fraser's animation work, titled Crevice, made by drawing minute marks directly onto 16mm clear film. These inscriptions take on a capricious tone when projected. They reveal an unsettling bombardment of images and terrains.

Crevice prompted Hanson to create a dance that addressed spatial politics – more specifically, the negotiation and claiming of space. Her title, Marchland, refers to a border region. So she has her dancers moving aggressively in close proximity to each other to foster tension and compromise. This also reflects Taylor's rapid sequence of tight, flickering and hyperactive images. Through the constant shifting of physical movement and agitated marks on film, both choreographer and visual artist comment on the endless reordering of alliances and territories. Taylor's set also conveys the vague notion of boundaries: Two distressed walls project horizontally into the audience to blur the lines between viewer and performer.

The Seldoms perform Marchland March 12-14 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theater. Both Evanston Dance Ensemble and The Seldoms make provocative parallels between stage and screen.