Nexus Redux

The Nexus Project | photo by Jonathan Mackoff
The Nexus Project | photo by Jonathan Mackoff

Does Chicago need another new dance company?


Does Chicago need another new dance studio?

Probably not.

And yet, it felt so exciting walking into the raw, cold footprint of the north side garage that will eventually become Dovetail Studios… walking in for the kick off a new name in town: The Cambrians.

New, but not new. We’ve seen Benjamin Wardell and Michel Rodriguez Cintra in white pants before – kind of a lot, actually. The duo once known as The Nexus Project are, in fact, what audience members are walking into for the month-long run in Albany Park. Now nestled under an umbrella organization called The Cambrians, The Nexus Project is but a small notch on Ben Wardell’s belt compared to the things he aspires to accomplish.

But I’m not going to talk about any of that now.

Much of Wardell and Cintra’s reboot of The Nexus Project (running through Feb. 1) is the same. The space is still white, as are their costumes, and the unobtrusive Dovetail storefront, once inside, feels much like it felt walking into Mana Contemporary when the show premiered there in 2013. The audience still gets fuzzy socks, it is still invited to play games. The source material – 13 duets choreographed on the men that have been busted apart and put back together in new combinations – well, that’s still the same too.

So, why do it again?

I asked myself the same question as I pulled on my fuzzy socks Saturday night and settled in for the Carnivale-style salsa-ballet intro that, yes, I’ve seen before.

Why, because some people haven’t seen The Nexus Project. A poll of the audience confirmed as much, as more than half of them admitted to being Nexus virgins. Knowing that, I remembered what it felt like to watch these magnificent specimens dance five feet in front of me, fouetté turns and all, followed by an abrupt stop for introductions:

“Hi, my name is Ben Wardell.”

“…And my name is Michel. It’s a French name, but I’m Cuban.”

“The world’s a complicated place these days…”

Though the shell is the same, there are some distinct differences between Nexus I and Nexus II. In the first installment we saw a duet in which Cintra must not touch the floor, climbing and rolling, and stepping on Wardell with a disclaimer to the audience of how much concentration it required. We saw this section again Saturday night, in a different context as Cintra nonchallantly told us about the time he met Fidel Castro.

We saw Robyn Mineko Williams’ Knucklehead – the only instance in which in-tact source material has been shared. For me, the impact was not so much in seeing this piece, but rather, seeing hints and nuances from it return later in the re-contextualized story-dance Rolando on Cintra’s upbringing in Cuba and la lucha (the struggle) that infused his early life.

The Nexus Project is ridiculous and bizarre most of the time, but wholly accessible to anyone who tries it.  The moments when the spectacle fall away and we see two exhausted humans, sharing their lives with us… those are the moments of pure magic, and the most poignant (fouettés notwithstanding).

So has the novelty worn off?

No, not really.

And Chicago still doesn’t need a new dance company, but no one can fault Wardell for wanting a house for his crazy smart innovations. For he just might cause a shift some day in what dance and performance in Chicago can look like.

The Cambrians presents The Nexus Project with Ben and Michel at Dovetail Studios (2853 West Montrose) Jan. 9 – Feb. 1. Performances are Friday through Sunday: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and may be reserved through With a $25 donation you get to keep your fuzzy socks.

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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