Dance Shelter: Raw, unfiltered, unreasonably long

In Chicago Moving Company’s first performance since the death of Chicago dance guru and CMC founder Nana Shineflug, Dance Shelter maintained all her goodness and unbridled spirit. Nana was perhaps best known for trying anything and everything, something that has been passed down to the choreographers she mentored throughout her life. Nana’s influence is, perhaps, best seen in CMC’s artists-in-residence, Rachel Bunting and Ayako Kato, who present work annually in Dance Shelter alongside “winners” selected from the company’s Dance for $9.99 / D49 summer festival presenting new and emerging artists.

Joanna Furnans | photo credit: Christine Wallers
Joanna Furnans’ ‘In the Palm of My Hand’ | photo credit: Christine Wallers

A beautifully reconstructed The Women, Shineflug’s 2006 trio featuring CMC veterans Mindy Meyers, Rachel Bunting, and Precious Jennings, was the only work in the program that wasn’t new. Long lines, swirlings and whirlings in and out of the floor is tempered by stoic patience from each of The Women‘s women. Jacob Snodgrass’ subtle amber lighting casts shadows behind the dancers, as though Nana’s spirit is blessing them – dancing along.

Joanna Furnans burst onto the scene since arriving from Minneapolis last year. Her new solo, In the Palm of My Hand, is anything but subtle, as Furnans charges across the stage to stand over and in the audience. Her presence is commanding, as is the wobbling dildo rubberbanded to her hand. With one prop (excuse the pun), Furnans transforms an ordinary, methodical pass of dancing into a sexually, politically charged statement. For the better. In the Palm of My Hand is uncomfortable to the point that we snicker like fifth graders in health class as the phallus swings back and forth, gesticulating with and apart from Furnans’ strong movement, reminding us of the importance of dance belts.

Lydia Feuerhelm’s a_version is a new duet with Jamie Corliss. Though the piece could benefit from some tailored costumes and paring down of allegorical text, Feuerhelm is smart, and creates promising work that gets better and better. CMC’s artists-in-residence Rachel Bunting and Ayako Kato present work that are similarly rife with experimentation, but present completely differently. Kato’s Blue Fish is a continuation of last year’s contribution to Dance Shelter, this time with the addition of Bryan Saner. It’s an odd couple – Saner as the human and Kato as the fish – and yet it somehow seems to work…. up to the point that the audience is invited to make a circle dance and the whole charade turns into a creative movement class.

Bunting’s If Birds Could Write: A Series of Dad Dreams is a work in progress, and in the usual way with Rachel Bunting, it’s completely off the wall. Deer masks and cat videos and berries smeared over the quartet’s faces and, as with her previous work, a delightful morsel of pop culture with a twist. It’s hard to say what will happen as Bunting continues to develop this work. Her choreography, like fine wine, tends to get better with age and it’s to all of our benefit to afford her the patience she gives to her process.

Dance Shelter gave us so much to see and digest… too much, perhaps, as audience members were kept sitting in folding chairs for well over two hours. By the time we got to the closer – Christopher Knowlton’s toodle around the stage upside down transformed as what could only be described as an “Assman,” my own butt hurt, and I just wasn’t into it any more. It’s too bad, really, because Knowlton’s text, the environment he created, the thoughts he provoked as he stood in a giant teacup, his poorly executed Assman at bay, were really, really compelling.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.