Review: There is no “I” in The Dance Team

CHICAGO—I’ve never heard a pre-show announcement that ended with:“OK, so does anyone have any questions?” But I think that’s just how Chris Knowlton (Artistic Director of The Dance Team) rolls.

Every aspect of The Past is Prologue, showing this weekend at Links Hall, is indicative of the collaborative spirit embraced by The Dance Team.  The five pieces that made up Friday’s performance evoked feelings of comfort, familiarity, and community.  Contributions of choreography, dancers, enormous quilts, live music, smells, and a fairly beefy technical set-up (as far as Links Hall goes, anyway) from Knowlton’s peers, friends, and even his family members are indicative of the fact that we’re all on his side, and vice-versa.  The whole evening is full of the soft palettes, warm-fuzzies, and cozy elements that I needed on a cold Saturday night in the middle of Wrigleyville.  The Past is Prolgue feels kind of like wrapping in a big blanket in slippers, flipping through Grandma’s scrapbook, drinking a hot toddy…

Four short pieces, a solo by Laura Chiaramonte and duets from Vienna Willems & Becky O’Connell, Katie Graves, and Movement Symposium (the newly named collaboration between Samantha Spriggs & Alicia Wilson), are followed by a reappearance of Knowlton’s longer work Hub & Spoke, a full-on 45 minute story ballet, in the second act.

Hub & Spoke has a lot going on, the least of which is the really huge quilt created by Knowlton’s mother that dresses the back wall.  Evoking the passage of time in sunrises and sunsets, I had seen bits and pieces of Hub before and the quilt is, in a word, perfect.  Combine this with smells of coffee and oranges, and – what should be – an award-winning punch in the face delivered from dancer Lesley Werle, and this honky-tonk roll in the hay (literally) is tons of fun.

While the majority of the first act feels as though these might still be works-in-progress, Katie Graves’s Antiques  is a tight composition that starkly contrasts the exploratory nature of the other three. Originally created for Winifred Haun and Dancers as a site-specific project, the blank white wall of Links Hall is not the glorious backdrop of the Elizabeth Cheney mansion where Antiques first appeared.  But Graves’ keen aesthetic shows up in this dance as well as it does in her photographs, and the opening picture of the piece stood out to me for the rest of the night.  Dancers Christopher Knowlton and Cristina Tadeo beautifully execute this moment, and the ones that follow, as the couple repeat a series of articulate hand gestures while wearing lampshades on their heads.  I wished for this moment to go on and on, and was, frankly, disappointed when the shades were eventually removed to revert to a more traditional dance-y duet.

The slightly unfinished nature of the first act is perhaps what’s behind Knowlton’s drastically low ticket price.  But The Past is Prologue is sharply curated, well-executed, and has the highest production value (kudos to Francesca Bourgault) that I’ve seen at Links in a long time.  The Dance Team IS a professional dance company, and the $7 ticket sells this show short, dramatically so.  Your ticket doesn’t even pay a dollar to each of the dancers in Hub & Spoke.  Does The Dance Team simply want to fill the house by selling cheap seats, or is it undervaluing the tremendous effort that went into this show?

Either way, The Past is Prologue is a lovely way to spend and evening, and by the end of it I found myself smiling, laughing, and wanting to be a part of their team too.

The Past is Prologue, presented by The Dance Team and Friends, shows through Sunday at Links Hall (3435 N. Sheffield).  Tickets are $7, available here or by calling (773) 281-0824.

Header photo by Katie Graves


Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.

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