Visceral Dance Company is Born (review)

Thursday night saw the debut performance of Visceral Dance Chicago at the surprisingly half full Harris Theater for Music and Dance. In an short performance of three world premieres and a video montage highlighting each company member, it’s clear that Visceral Dance Chicago is here, and wants to play with the big kids. I mean, what brand new dance company has its first show at the Harris?


Photo credit: Cheryl Mann
Photo credit: Cheryl Mann

Like its mother studios, the mood of Visceral Dance Chicago is sleek, polished, and black. The main curtain opened on a Harris stage left completely undressed, with the soft goods pushed back and the overhead grid dropped, making the electrics visible to the audience. The stark, industrial atmosphere was enhanced by bright footlights on all four sides and cutoff black and blue costumes with pleather accents.

Despite the striking visual impact of Brian Sidney Bembridge’s design, Sidra Bell’s Landings, Chasms didn’t wow me. Though littered with interesting gestures and movement passages, the piece failed to reach a sufficient climax implied by the bright lights and pulsing soundtrack. Poignant finger pointings and open jawed facial expressions came and went, never to be seen again in the piece. The program notes indicate an investigation of intimacy and relationships, but the bare trappings, impersonal walking patterns, and fluorescent tones gave a completely different impression. Knowing the technical capabilities of some of the dancers on the bill, I wanted more.

Fortunately, I got it.

The identity of the company clearly lies on the shoulders of Artistic Director Nick Pupillo, who, coincidently choreographed the remaining two showstoppers of the evening. A duet, Senza di Te, and full company work, Impetere, would take full advantage of these dancers’ phenomenal facilities. The standout performance of the night was from Caitlin Cucchiara (with the help of partner Michael Gross in Senza di Te). I had previously only seen Cucchiara as an apprentice at Thodos Dance Chicago, and it’s clear from her outing on Thursday that she’s arrived, as have several others settling down to a home in Visceral Dance Chicago.

Both Pupillo works had all the high kicks and flair I expected, but there is a distinct flavor to this fledgling company that differentiates them from the other high kick, high flair, contemporary dance companies. That’s kind of exciting, because if they keep this up Visceral Dance Chicago is likely to succeed and provide a new pool of jobs to high level dancers, and exciting evenings for its audiences. The more the merrier.

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.

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