New Dance Performances Surpass the Usual Holiday Fare | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

New Dance Performances Surpass the Usual Holiday Fare

Nearly a week after Thanksgiving, you might say that the holiday spirit is now in full swing. But two local dance companies have avoided the usual sugarplum trimmings and Nutcracker spoofs to bring audiences something more abstractly inspired. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Mordine & Co. Dance Theater are both mounting works, inspired by other art forms. Eight Forty-Eight dance critic Lucia Mauro provides the details.

Earlier this year, Alejandro Cerrudo – the Spanish-born resident choreographer and dancer for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago – premiered Off Screen, a well-received live version of film styles. Set against shimmering gray fabric to suggest the silver screen, dancers in wry and unexpected pairings, appear to be shot out of a movie projector like a cannon. But instead of characters, they represent the moods – passion, danger, slapstick –  behind recognizable film genres.

They flicker before us in black-and-white-lit movement reminiscent of romantic comedies, thrillers, even cartoons. At times, the dancers appear to be lost in a deconstructed Keystone Kops silent movie or dropped into the overblown chaos of Toon Town. They slide, swim, wriggle, dip and freefall their way through the vast archives of big-screen magic. But the ensemble always maintains its humanity.

Cerrudo mixed scores from a vast palette of movies, including There Will Be Blood and Pan's Labyrinth. In the process, Off Screen sort of morphed into the dance equivalent of Giuseppe Tornatore's classic film about film, Cinema Paradiso.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago revives Off Screen for its Winter Series, running Dec. 3-6 at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park. Also on the bill are Johan Inger's Walking Mad and Ohad Naharin's Tabula Rasa.

Shirley Mordine, artistic director of Mordine & Co. Dance Theater, used as her jumping-off point an entertainment convention that long pre-dates film: commedia dell'arte. For her latest collaborative dance venture, titled I Haven't Gone There, she abstractly harnesses the improvisational inhibitions of 16th century commedia performers. These traveling troupes, which originated in Italy, brought theater to the masses in impromptu outdoor settings. But don't expect any stock characters, like Harlequin or Pulcinella, to appear in Mordine's new multimedia piece. The spirit of commedia informs the dance in the sense that the artists are making a pronounced connection with the audience. Her choice of venue, a massive former warehouse called Galaxie, provides a raw, liberating vibe for artists to do whatever they want.

Dressed in mismatched costumes they seem to have pulled from an old trunk, the six dancers perform an array of solos, duets and group sections, including some that involve experimental jazz composer Doug Lofstrom and performance artist, Bryan Saner. Saner has written text that addresses the audience, adding to the work's emphasis on human connection. He also sings and strums a metal saw. The movement evokes intricately shaped whimsy. A soloist grabs hold of the crown of her hair, unwinds her arm at the elbow and balances on her knuckle. She later invites the other dancers into her space through a tag-team, non-mechanical version of a German-style clock with movable figures. Throughout, the dancers detach and reattach themselves to each other in different patterns, like Lego blocks.

By uniting many disparate elements and playfully breaking the fourth wall, Mordine comments on how important it is to broaden one's exposure to different cultures and viewpoints. Her long-time projection designer John Boesche underscores Mordine's goals by flooding the room with multiple images of people.

Mordine & Co. Dance Theater performs I Haven't Gone There ?? subtitled “a scrappy, chaotic, moving journey to places you never knew” – Dec. 4-6 at Galaxie, 2603 W. Barry Ave.

Both Alejandro Cerrudo of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and choreographer Shirley Mordine find profound meaning in two highly communal art forms: film and traveling bands of players.

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