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Eight Forty-Eight

Dance Beat: Competing In Choreography

In the first of a two-part series of previews Eight Forty-Eight's dance critic, Lucia Mauro, talks about two unique dance events. The A.W.A.R.D. Show and Matter Dance Company's “Revolving Doors,” offer a lot of innovative styles that embrace the audience.

The first of our two shows this week may be called The A.W.A.R.D. Show, and it may come with a $10,000 prize. But there's no wisecracking panel of judges holding up scorecards. And callers won't be texting in their votes. The A.W.A.R.D. Show is the brainchild of choreographer Neta Pulvermacher, who teamed up with New York's Joyce Theater Foundation three years ago to encourage audience input in new choreography. The goal was to take post-show audience feedback sessions to a more dynamic level.

Now The A.W.A.R.D. Show makes its Chicago debut at the Dance Center of Columbia College June 24 through 27. A dozen local contemporary choreographers will compete for the prize money, which is to be used toward the creation of a new dance piece. Here's how it works. Over the course of three evenings, contestants will perform a 12- to 15-minute piece each. Then, after a moderated discussion, viewers will comment and vote on finalists. On the final night a panel of experts, together with the audience, will choose the winner.

Phil Reynolds, the Dance Center's executive director, insists that unlike some of the televised competitions, The A.W.A.R.D. Show does not plan to be “an open season on humiliation.” Each choreographer will bring a distinctive creative voice to the proceedings. Here's a sneak peek:

Carrie Hanson's duet, “Thrift,” with Paige Cunningham is a reaction to the current economic crisis and a physical experimentation of streamlined, or economical, movement. The dance is set against the sounds of counting money and an economist lecture. The piece, which premiered as part of The Seldoms' winter engagement.

Julia Rhoads, artistic director of Lucky Plush Productions, also has embarked on a comprehensive study that reflects our times: the Internet and how it challenges copyright laws. She and her dancers will perform “Memory Mash,” a darkly comedic riff on how iconic dance moves can become appropriated by others. In an arena where choreography is passed from body to body, Rhoads asks, how can we revisit intellectual property from varied viewpoints, most notably Internet sites, such as YouTube.

The company is working with eclectic source material from the dance world and pop culture. Audiences will no doubt recognize moves from Swan Lake, the Macarena, Bob Fosse, Esther Williams' swim formations and the “Keep on Dancing” segment from a famous episode of The Brady Bunch. The piece culminates in a finale that mashes up these styles in such an extreme way, they become something completely new.

Molly Shanahan of Mad Shak Dance Company takes a cerebral-physical approach in “Stamina of Curiosity/my answer is yes.” Previously immersed in solo performance, Shanahan is now working with an ensemble to get in touch with the intangible energy that exists between the performers and audience – quite appropriate for The A.W.A.R.D. Show's emphasis on audience engagement. On a deeper level, Shanahan centers on the physiological changes that take place between those who observe and those who are observed. Her movements range from evocative spiraling of hands and wrists to the coiling of the spine and even a loosening of the abdominal muscles to provoke a degree of exciting instability.

The A.W.A.R.D. Show takes place June 24 through 27 at the Dance Center of Columbia College on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Tomorrow, we'll explore another audience-inclusive performance, staged by Matter Dance Company.

The Seldoms

Dance video excerpts:
Thrift (excerpts)
Memory Mash
Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak: Stamina of Curiosity

Lucky Plush Productions
Molly Shanahan Mad Shak

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