At the Harvest Fest, Less is More (review)

Andee Scott in the edge of it, Photo by Kirk Donaldson

By on September 21, 2015

The 6th installment of the Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival (HCCDF) is trying a new format, with two programs rather than three, spread out over two weekends. The result is fewer artists, more tech time for each artist, and an overall heightened sophistication to one of the few remaining small-scale festivals.

The evening opened with a bang in the edge of it, Tampa-based Andee Scott’s mesmorizing duet with her shadow in which she slithers into, out of, and around striped or granulated light patterns projected from the downstage diagonal. the edge of it employed some of the same conventions as Maria Gillespie’s Inscribed Here, the Archive, the opener for one of HCCDF’s performances last season, showing again that solos needn’t be stark to be impactful. Light, in this case, proved to be a most fascinating dance partner.

In keeping with this theme, Aerial Dance Chicago and Elements Contemporary Ballet closed the evening with one of the best bits from their collaborative 2014 aerial ballet, Silk & Steel. In a compelling pas de trois with Joseph Caruna partnering Megan Walsh in pointe shoes and Chloe Jensen hovering a few feet above the stage from a rope, I am reminded that 1) these two companies working together was a really good idea, and 2) Jensen is unmatched by any aerialist in the city, and hopefully, probably, immortal.

Chloe Jensen in an excerpt from 'AYA,' an evening-length expansion of 'Silk & Steel' premiering this Oct at the Athenaeum Theatre | photo by Kristie Kahns
Chloe Jensen in an excerpt from ‘AYA,’ an evening-length expansion of ‘Silk & Steel’ premiering this Oct at the Athenaeum Theatre | photo by Kristie Kahns

Minimalism seemed to be the rule of the evening, with mostly solos, duets, and trios, uncomplicated sound scores, and lots of really tiny shorts. The exception was Resurface by Derek Jay-Son Rusch. A massive cast and harried movement vocabulary with complementary stylings including thick dark eyeliner, flowing frocks and messy top knots reminded of Kristen Stewart’s worst day on the set of Twilight. If a complicated, fiery conjuring is what Rusch was looking for, he succeeded; for me, though, the most satisfying moments were the quieter ones in which nearly all 13 dancers did a pass of “step together, look” across the stage, which brought a chill up my spine.

It wasn’t the only chill.

James Morrow’s I met my soul walking along the path premiered early in 2015 as a group piece for Chicago Dance Crash, reimagined for HCCDF as a solo and dedicated to the memory of Paul Christiano. The subtleties are what counted here: Morrow’s sometimes pedestrian movement, the soft articulation of his fingers, a beat up blazer and an Atari shirt (perhaps a nod to Christiano’s 2010 ADHDivas), and his gaze into the wings as the delicate score sang of a “tomorrow that may never come.”

Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival presents a whole new line-up Sept 25-26, including Chicago’s Philip Elson Dance, Giordano II, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Mordine & Co., and RE|Dance with visiting appearances by Weslie Ching, Columbus Moving Company, Hub Dance Collective, and Keith Johnson. Performances begin at 8:00pm, at the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts (1016 N. Dearborn). Tickets are $25, available at the door or online at hccdf.brownpapertickets.com.

Header photo: Andee Scott in “the edge of it,” Photo by Kirk Donaldson

Editor and founder Lauren Warnecke is a freelance writer and critic based in Chicago, IL. She is the dance writer and critic for the Chicago Tribune, a culture critic at Chicago Magazine, and has credits with See Chicago Dance, the Windy City Times, Dance Magazine and Pointe, among others.

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