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Eight Forty-Eight

Surrealism through Dance

The term Fellini-esque was inspired by the late Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. It commonly refers to a surreal experience. Rarely does it translate to dance until now. Two companies are taking cues from the strange and absurd circus sideshows and cabarets; dream states and the unpredictable landscape of the mind.

For WBEZ, dance critic Lucia Mauro navigates the bizarre terrain

On Stage:
Hedwig Dances
April 2 and 3; 8 p.m.
Dance Center of Columbia College

John Jasperse Company
April 9-11
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

The poetically inclined Hedwig Dances celebrates its 25th anniversary in a performance filled with psychologically rich twists and turns. It features all premieres by women choreographers, including artistic director Jan Bartoszek.

The Dance of Forgotten Steps moves her ensemble ethereally between transparent black screens designed by sculptor Barbara Cooper. The choreographer explores essential memories and how they speak to the core of who we are. Since memories tend to be fragmented, the dancers move in and out of the shadowy darkness of the screens. A dog barks. A rooster crows. Bagpipes can be heard in the distance. These disparate sounds help the dancers grab hold of moments from their past as their eyes alternately glaze over with both a vacancy and an intensity. Various groupings lunge, drop, even sleepwalk, or they call to someone in silence, make an offering, and reach out. Each carefully calibrated movement suggests longing for a faraway place-an appropriate idea, considering a number of Hedwig's dancers are originally from Cuba.

In Sawdust Palace Suite, New York-based choreographer Susan Marshall takes us to Germany, circa the Weimar-era. The theatrical dance, with heavy burlesque overtones, psychologically toggles between backstage and center stage. One woman slinks around like a snake charmer before going into a twitching trance. Instead of using his voice, a male performer sings with his arms, torso and fingers. In an evocative aerial section, a couple fights against, then gives in to its passionate urges. They tango while swirling around on a harness, then add some ironic Latin ballroom moves, and kick around a piece of fabric on the floor. What may sound like a nightclub act gone wrong turns out to be a witty and provocative glimpse into the madness of life and its crazy entanglements.

The other company I'm previewing this week, John Jasperse avoids reality altogether in its full-length dance-performance piece with a rather long-winded title: Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies. The New York experimental dance company will share the MCA stage with electronica composer Hahn Rowe and the International Contemporary Ensemble. Throughout, Jasperse doesn't seek answers to life's big questions. Instead, through movement that veers from stark and lyrical to wry and tawdry, he shows how shaky the terrain of truth can be. In the work, he suggests that people find clever ways to construct their own truths in order to find meaning in their lives.

It's a heady and, at times, confusing journey. The work opens with four dancers emerging from smoke onto a fashion-show runway decorated with pink- floral wallpaper. The women's sequined costumes seem to shimmy of their own accord as the lights go down, then come up again to reveal a tottering and contorted cabaret. Beyond traditional dance movements, such as plies, spins and arabesques, the dancers ritualistically undress. In one sequence suggestive of two women sunbathing, the performers engage in conversation through the unexpected jiggling of their thighs. Jasperse makes several appearances, or disappearances, with a series of sleight-of-hand magic tricks – further magnifying his irony-laden reality-versus-illusion theme.

Both Hedwig Dances and John Jasperse Company celebrate-and validate-the absurdity of life.

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