If you’re friends with Lucy Riner on Facebook, then you’ve heard about this show.
With Riner and co-Artistic Director Michael Estanich at the helm, RE|Dance is taking an “all-in” approach in preparing for its five-year anniversary next weekend at the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts. With the help of a MetLife New Stages for Dance grant, The Long and Forgotten Winter is a big project, built on a big idea, for a big group of dancers, presented in a big theater. Inspired by the concept of passage, Winter is an allegorical tale that echoes the voyage of discovery upon which our country is founded. The nine dancers in the cast (including Riner and Estanich) descend from the renowned upper stage of the Ruth Page theater by way of a giant 13′ crane designed and constructed by Grant Saban upon a new and mythical world in search of Utopia.
The spirit of imagination is rife in the work, as it was during my studio visit to RE|Dance’s home in the Gompers Park fieldhouse. Dancers were missing, props and set visualized, with Playskool toy sets, a box of “ribbon dancer” batons, and a rack of tiny pink dumbbells littering the long and narrow Park District building (one of the latest among a growing list of Arts Partners in Residence). Make no mistake, though, there is serious dancing going on here. Estanich is known for his classical lines, intricate patternings, and “weird modern dance” sensibility (in a good way); Winter is no exception. Sections I saw of the hour-and-a-half-ish work revealed literal stylings referencing compasses, fencing, a battle and a jubilant feast, echoed by mistrel music and conquistador-inspired costumes. Abstractions and moments that feel intensely personal are interspersed throughout, giving the work more depth and coaxing it away from the faintest possibility of cliché.
The viewer gets the sense that each dancer has explored for himself what the voyage toward Utopia looks like, and themes from The Long and Forgotten Winter on this important five year anniversary as a company beg the questions: what do Estanich and Riner envision for the future of the organization? What is the Utopia they seek for RE|Dance? As I stood on the stoop outside Gompers Park with them both on a beautiful June evening, they told me they have no allusions of grandeur. They want a healthy organization that can tour every once in awhile and pay its dancers a living wage. For a dancer, that’s pretty much all we could ever hope for.
The Long and Forgotten Winter presented by RE|Dance premieres at The Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts (1016 N. Dearborn St.) on Friday and Saturday, August 1 & 2 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, August 3 at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $20 available online and at the door one hour prior to each performance.