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Eight Forty-Eight

Chicago Fringe Festival Includes Dance in Eclectic Roster

Despite its second-city status, Chicago has been a great incubator for all kinds of art, from theatre to dance. In keeping with that spirit of experimentation, the inaugural Chicago Fringe Festival kicks off tomorrow in Pilsen. Over the next five days you'll have the chance to see more than 200 local and international avant-garde performers. In addition to all the theater, music and visual arts, there'll be a substantial dance presence. Eight Forty-Eight's Dance Critic Lucia Mauro brings us this preview.

Three emerging Chicago dance companies take an adventurous approach to the physical and emotional aspects of dance. Rooted in a no-holds-barred post-modernism, these groups meticulously deconstruct matters of the head and the heart.

Choreographer Megan Rhyme collaborated with a neuroscientist to create something of a dance-based science project titled Inner Cartography. As the term implies, Rhyme maps out the connection between the thought of movement to the execution of that movement. Her four dancers appear to spontaneously release energy from their splayed and twisting hands to their strong, flexed toes. In the first part of the dance, each mover radiates impulses in a tight cluster. Since neurons do not move through space, the dancers stay in one spot while creating an endless stream of reaching and folding in…as if maneuvering inside a bubble.

Rhyme takes on the role of a choreographer-vivisectionist. The first part, with the dancers at a cellular level, segues to a section in which they show the overall structure of the brain, then become human beings.

Stephanie Acosta, artistic director of The Anatomy Collective, tackles a different kind of body mapping in her new collaborative work called Unintended Structures. Her canvas is downtown Chicago, where the performers responded to their urban environment in unexpected ways. Though technically not an environmental piece, Unintended Structures grew out of an unusual site-specific process. Acosta and her dancers ventured into the Loop to take in the whirling energy forces during rush hour. But they threw in a creative wrench. As commuters raced across L platforms, the dancers would suddenly stop in their tracks, disrupting the frenetic energy around them. To get in touch with the life force of skyscrapers, they hugged tall buildings to feel their natural sway. They even laid down in the middle of Daley Plaza as pedestrians were forced to step in and around them. The experiment generated smiles, laughter, confusion and – most importantly – engagement from strangers.

Acosta then transformed those experiences into an abstract dance of body extensions, contractions and stillness.

For the performance, dancers navigate around an ephemeral border of sand that creates a map on the ground but eventually gets erased. Light also plays a key role, as movement takes place around flashlight beams reminiscent of the nighttime pockets of light on the city's skyline.

Last year, Lucy Vurusic Riner and Michael Estanich formed RE/Dance Group to delve into intimate relationships. In The Lonely Visitors, they aggressively examine the uncontrollable bursts of emotion prompted by music. With a sound score ranging from Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe in Anything" to Luciano Pavarotti singing "Nessun dorma," the drama is wildly unfettered. The dancers veer between desperate caresses, as if screaming for human touch, and rolling over each other. They also break into maniacal laughter at inappropriate moments, swing like doleful pendulums, and exit with dirge-like regret. Choreographed by Estanich, The Lonely Visitors uses wooden chairs as its main visual metaphor. The fierce precision of these frequently strewn props, together with their audible clatter, conveys the raw emotion and messiness of the human heart.

All three dance companies performing in the Chicago Fringe Festival tackle familiar human stories with some smart and unconventional twists.

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