D49: growing dance on fertile grounds (Review)

Jose A. Luis presented "Nosotros" at Thursday's D49 performance
Jose A. Luis presented “Nosotros” at Thursday’s D49 performance

Hamlin Park Fieldhouse: the home of Chicago Moving Company (CMC), a typical haunt for developing choreographers to show work, and a sometimes hot bed for discovering new and emerging talent in dance and performance. With Dance for $9.99 (D49), seasoned producer (and long-time right-hand woman to CMC Artistic Director Nana Shineflug) Kay LaSota joins the lot of emerging choreographic showcases, with a few notable distinctions. LaSota modeled her series after an older one called Dance for $1 at the now defunct MoMing Arts Center. In doing so, she borrowed the principles of affordable dance and audience engagement. D49 programs come with an audience survey, but not a typical one asking about how many dance shows you attend, and what income bracket you fall under. Audience members are asked to provide insights, reflections, and (friendly) assessments of what they see in the show, and then vote for their favorite performers. This feedback is then used to select a pair of artists (one from each night) for inclusion in CMC’s annual Dance Shelter alongside Hamlin Park’s resident choreographers.

But wait, there’s more! In choosing the lineup, LaSota and a panel of curators from within CMC have focused their efforts less on “emerging” artists, and more on “under-produced” choreographers for the two nights of dance. In doing so, curators Atalee Judy, Rachel Bunting, and Ayako Kato – who, under certain circumstances might also be considered under-produced – have selected an eclectic and interesting smattering of artists, and smartly created an environment that broods big and excited audiences. Last year was a smash hit, with packed houses both nights, and if Thursday’s showing is any indication things to come for D49, it will enjoy a long and prosperous future.

The standout work of the evening was the opening Levels of Acetylcholine by Josh Anderson in collaboration with Brian Rad. In what could be seen as part Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and part Office Space, the two men embody passive/aggressive anger from three perspectives. The opening scene is a dead pan stare in disheveled business casual wear, followed by poignant gestures layered over text. Perhaps my bias, but I saw them as graduate students, and the text seemed something out of an incomprehensible science textbook interspersed with poetry such as “lost is the luxury of reason,” and “the heart is a fickle villain.” After a series of glorious piggy back rides in which Rad attempts a half-hearted apology at Anderson, the two enter part three: “Welcome to Xfinity.” Here the two men return to the deadpan stare while the soundtrack plays elevator music, followed by a hilarious staged interaction with customer service that sounded something like this. Anderson has found brilliance in the mundane, accentuated the ridiculousness of the ordinary, and in ten minutes, made me a big fan.

Joanna Furnans closed the show with one of the most disciplined additive phrases I’ve ever witnessed. Furnans is a recent transplant from Minneapolis, and the influence of Laurie Van Wieren in her work is glaringly apparent. Accompanied by Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang on a loop, the completely unison duet with Aaron Mattocks is dressed in rave attire, tightly composed, and frustratingly simple – in a good way, I think.  Additional highlights on the evening include Jose A. Luis’ beautifully off-kilter and self-reflective Nosotros, and Jason Torres Hancock’s improvisation of family portraiture set to readings by Gertrude Stein, featuring lovely performances from an eclectic group of not oft-seen dancers (Kelsey Herbst, Dennis Wise, Darling Shear, and Sarah Gottlieb).

Additional artists seen Thursday were Raw Dance Collective: Maggie Bouffard’s exploration of narcissism and selfies, and Caitlin Rafferty’s personal quartet about her mother’s battle with cancer. Friday’s line-up included performances from We Stand Sideways Dance (Amanda Timm), Lydia Feuerhelm, Kelly Anderson Dance Theatre, Christopher Knowlton, Jessica Marasa and Ben Law and Alana Parekh.