Preview: Midwest Nexus Kicks Off with Synapse’s ‘Swath’

Synapse Arts by Matthew Gregory Hollis

I’ve known Rachel Damon for about 10 years, and I feel like I know her work pretty well.

A Damon dance is grounded, dark, and shrouded in abstraction. She blurs the lines between genders, genres, and disciplines in her work and creates through improvisation and visceral experiences.  Her costumes are grey, and red, and blue.

Swath is from another place entirely.  The world Damon creates for the dancers of her company (Synapse Arts) is all white and beige, like an antique photograph.  There are literal references to building, farming, and territorial lines; the dancers’ roles are strictly male and female. The five women in the piece (Leslie Werle, Gretchen Soechting, Laura Tennal, Katie Matteson and Vienna Willems) unplait their long hair while Matthew McMunn mimics the movements of a crazed country butcher.

There are few ambiguities in Swath, and, coming from Rachel Damon, that’s what makes it so intriguing. However, in watching a preview of the work I got the impression that a deep-seeded wrath lies beneath the surface of this seemingly perfect world.  It’s almost too perfect, and, true to form, Damon’s choreography (combined with Julia Miller’s hand drawn projections and Russell Weiss’s nostalgic sound score) has managed to coat the piece with a layer of mystery that I don’t quite understand.

In a good way.

Synapse’s Swath appears beside Slippery Fish (from Minneapolis-based Penelope Freeh and Jocelyn Hagen) for the debut of Links Hall’s Midwest Nexus Program.  Midwest Nexus is an extension of the Apprentice Producers Program, partnering local companies with an emerging Production Manager who supports touring opportunities in Midwestern cities.  Following this weekend’s showing at Links, Synapse and Freeh/Hagen take this performance to the Twin Cities for a performance in Freeh’s home town.

Synapse Arts’ Swath is part of The Midwest Nexus Program, premiering June 7-9, 7:00pm, at Links Hall / Constellation (3111 N. Western). Tickets are $15/12 available online or cash at the door. Photo of Vienna Willems and Laura Tennal by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.