Chicago's dance 'Transformation' | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Chicago's dance 'Transformation'

Many dance choreographers seek to expand their medium through inventive collaborations. In two upcoming performances dancers are teamed with very unusual partners - dramatic lighting and lovable puppets: Pilobolus Dance Theatre performs Friday and Saturday at the Harris Theater in Chicago and the Joe Goode Performance Group stages Wonder Boy at the Dance Center of Columbia College next weekend.For WBEZ, dance critic Lucia Mauro gave Eight Forty-Eight the details:

Many choreographers are expanding the scope of dance through inventive collaborations. Two upcoming performances feature dance makers teaming up with dramatic lighting design and lovable puppets. Lucia Mauro gives us the details.

When it first somersaulted onto the post-modern dance scene 40 years ago, Pilobolus Dance Theatre baffled and intrigued the most seasoned dance lovers. Through Lego-like maneuvers and creative lighting cues, the six-member troupe transformed human bodies into trees, caterpillars and extraterrestrials. So, were they dancers, acrobats, filmmakers or magicians? Today, even though Pilobolus has the means to create more technologically sophisticated optical illusions, audiences are still asking the same question. And the answer is all of the above.

Pilobolus performs a retrospective of early and new work at the Harris Theater. The Transformation is a shadow-theater excerpt from a larger piece called Shadowlands. It was created in collaboration with Steven Banks, lead writer for the animated SpongeBob SquarePants series, and singer-songwriter David Poe. The Transformation is both a children’s story come to life and a whimsical suggestion of Michelangelo’s fresco of God creating Adam. It all takes place behind a large screen in silhouette. A giant hand molds the figure of a young girl like clay. Through some deft manipulations, she loses her head only for it to be replaced by that of a poodle. The dog wags its tail and rolls on its back. Eventually the likable figure becomes a dog-headed girl sent off on a journey – hobo sack and all -- to join the circus by her Titan of a creator. It’s a familiar coming of age story with a fantastical twist.

The company also will perform Duet, a shape-shifting classic in which two women in sundresses grow taller and shorter before the audience’s eyes…a witty study in genial power plays. Co-artistic director Michael Tracy points to the group’s keen ability to spur a shock of recognition. He says they don’t rely on elaborate rigs to create illusions. Instead they craft magical images through interlocking bodies and hand shadows.

Joe Goode Performance Group may not employ shadow play for its production of Wonder Boy at the Dance Center of Columbia College. But a puppet steals the spotlight in this touching dance-theater performance about the trials of a hypersensitive super hero. In this Westernized version of Japanese bunraku puppet theater, choreographer Goode has his contemporary ensemble manipulate a melancholic boy puppet. The achingly empathetic boy observes the world through a window with billowing white curtains.

Turbulent underpinnings in the dancers’ movement suggest discord, including the boy’s combative parents. In other scenes, the performers lean on each other to imply the need for support before reaching out with pleading gestures. Throughout, the puppet sets out to overcome his fears and connect with another human being.

Both Pilobolus Dance Theatre and Joe Goode Performance Group tackle big questions with transformative ingenuity.

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