Review: Esoteric Dance Project’s Shift/ed at Links Hall

CHICAGO — Husband and wife team Christopher Tucker and Brenna Pierson-Tucker created Esoteric Dance Project in 2010, and with a group of strong dancers in tow present four premieres this weekend at Links Hall. Tucker and Pierson-Tucker are strongly influenced by ballet technique, and add a contemporary dance flavor to their aesthetic. There doesn’t really appear to be much esotericism to Esoteric Dance Project – the themes they choose are transparent and accessible to audiences through music and lighting choices, as well as beautifully constructed costuming.

The standout of the evening is the finale, Chiaroscuro. Built around the ideas of contrast and duality, the dancers weave in and out of a swirling black and white projection created by artist Lauren Wilk. The dancing is slow at first and the projection creates an intriguing effect on elegant, long, two-toned dresses and leotards. Particularly poignant is a moment of exaltation at the end of the first section that invokes an image somewhat like an Aztec sacrifice. But as the piece grew toward its climax, a sense of vertigo ensued and the projections grew distracting. Each passing downstage cut the dancers’ heads off due to a lack of front light, and I was wanting to have a simpler landscape to really enjoy the effort of the dancers. I wondered if this piece wouldn’t do better in a bigger space, giving the projector more distance to cover the whole backdrop rather than isolating the artwork to the center third of Links’ back wall. A bit of distance could also provide the viewer a chance to take in the work as a whole rather than having to pick what to watch.

The evening was rounded out by an abstract, angular work called Em-Em-Dubs (which featured dancer Kathryn Hetrick quite nicely), a take on the secret lives of “old tyme” showgirls called After the Nickel Runs Out, and a duet: Translate to 2. It was in the duet that Pierson-Tucker made her only performance of the night (Tucker would only dance in Chiaroscuro). The clarity and intensity of execution from both in their own dancing as well as that of the ensemble, in addition to an attention to detail on the finishings all contributed to a polished package on a cold and messy winter night. At its core, Esoteric seems to have a clear aesthetic and returns to many of the same movement motifs in more than one piece. However, it’s apparent that their commitment goes beyond just “pretty dancing” and the pair have a strong desire to present clear ideas in each dance.

Esoteric Dance Project presents Shift/ed continues through Sunday at Links Hall (3111 N. Western Ave.). Performances are at 7pm. Tickets are $15 at, or $18 at the door.

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.