Dropshift dance aims to immerse and interact, and wins

Upon first glance, one might consider Andrea Cerniglia’s four woman troupe dropshift dance (intentionally uncapitalized) to be a spin off of Zephyr Dance. Cerniglia is a long time dancer/collaborator with Zephyr, and the influences of Michelle Kranicke (and formerly Emily Stein too) are undeniable. Yet there is something very different about this four woman company that distinguishes it from Zephyr (another four woman company). Cerniglia has smartly created her company by capitalizing on her lineage with Zephyr and simultaneously branching out on her own. In the end, she stands apart from her history, and her latest work Imposter/Malleable, ironically stands apart from anything else I’ve seen her create.

Showing at Links Hall this weekend, Imposter/Malleable is set up like an art installation; the audience is instructed to sit and view from wherever we like, to come and go as we please. Playing with audience orientation isn’t new, and personally I rarely engage in these sorts of invitations (particularly because I’m toting a big yellow notebook). In this case, I wish I had. My only complaint with Imposter/Malleable at a length of 90 minutes, is the sheer amount of stamina it takes to get through it. Had I done as the program suggested… gotten up, stretched my legs, refilled my wine glass, and returned refreshed, I might not have been so anxious for an ending. Cerniglia, on the other hand, shows dedicated patience, and had I made another choice this could have proven exceedingly satisfying.

Photo by: Rosa Gaia — with Julie Brannen, Andrea Cerniglia and Coco Chen.

Cerniglia has a clear hold on a genre that is weird. And beautiful. And weird beautiful. And beautifully weird. Her sometimes playful / sometimes allureing assortment of phrases, gestures, and scenes are paid compliment to by Richard Norwood’s exquisite lighting and intricate costuming, props and set from Amanda Lee Franck. Never has such an immersive environment been created within Links Hall’s four white walls, at least in my experience, and that’s in large part to Norwood’s sensibility (and, perhaps his personal inventory of additional lighting equipment).

The dancers (Cerniglia with Julie Brannen, Weichung Chen, and Colleen Welch) are wildly committed to this strange world – un-phased by shifting audience members. They twist and contort their faces into exaggerated expressions and fearlessly stare us straight in the eyes.  Also supporting the effort is musician Chris Fisher-Lochhead, who occasionally creeps from his audio table to assume the roll of a viola-playing minstrel. He is sometimes alone, sometimes with dancers, sometimes accompanied by recorded sound, and always a compelling addition to the highly feminine mystique of the work. Throughout Imposter/Malleable,  the audience members are concurrently witnesses and participants on a journey that, I think, we aren’t really meant to understand. The program instructed me to design my own experience, and in this case, I chose to sit with total immersion and lack of understanding; what an interesting and uncomfortable place to be.

dropshift dance presents Imposter/Malleable continues through Sunday at 7pm at Links Hall (3111 N. Western). Tickets are $18/20 available at the door and online.

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.