Innervation Dance Cooperative’s ‘Tuned In’ is a bit out of tune (review)

At the top of the show, Innervation Dance Cooperative (IDC) founder Michael Sherman bounced up on stage for his pre-show speech and joyfully said, “Enjoy yourself and have a good time!” Spirits were high despite a relatively small audience in the Pro Theater at Stage 773, and IDC managed to carry a full two hours of dance without ever waning in energy and enthusiasm. On the surface, it would appear that IDC’s objective is to present dance as pure entertainment, but that doesn’t seem quite true given last weekend’s concert: Tuned In. Dance for dance’s sake is flashy and laden with tricks, often devoid of a central idea. To be fair, IDC does like its tricks, with many of Tuned In‘s 16 dances boasting big jumps, lots of turns, lots of partnering and numerous cartwheels. However, the company is overflowing with ideas – almost too many ideas, or at least, too many for one evening.


Innervation Dance Cooperative has functioned under an interesting democratic artistic structure since 2007 in which the company is run through a team approach by an Artistic Cooperative. IDC’s dancers are daring, and committed, and they aren’t afraid to get weird (in a good way). IDC’s choreographers come from within its impressively large pool of company dancers, all representing a wildly diverse range of professional experience. Innervation touts some quite good dancers, the strongest of whom, perhaps, is one of the company’s four leaders, Elisa Carlson. Much of the group also seems to have an affinity for theatrical dance, making up for its gaps with pluck, humor, and characterization.

Many, if not most, of the evening’s numerous little dances glimpsed us with something interesting, and then it was over, but the nuggets of the night were Stephanie Anderson’s Tree-O and Michael Sherman’s Stages.  There was a dance about mad scientists,  and another about Wild West spaghetti throwing. One about the plight of the 50’s housewife, and an excerpt from the 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. There were some interesting duets, a couple solos, big group pieces and small group pieces. The dances that were most successful were kept simple, had smaller casts, and were completely devoid of cartwheels. Carlson, who appears to be a strong leader and backbone of the company announced near the end of the concert that she would be stepping down, and IDC will see some fresh blood among its leaders in the coming years. It remains to be seen if this change in leadership will ignite change in IDC’s approach; the seventeen year old dance company once called Irreverence Dance + Theatre is still operating under an antiquated model in which everyone’s a choreographer, dance is primarily for entertainment, the quick costume changes are more impressive than the movement invention, and an idea can be honored in five minutes or less.

Look, I get it. Being a mid-sized dance company with part-time dancers, mediocre funding opportunities, and an insufficient venue isn’t easy. Everyone (EVERYONE) involved with IDC is working multiple jobs (according to their bios), and IDC continues to push out biannual dance concerts with a relatively high production value because they love to do it. IDC is providing opportunities for lots of dancers of different shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds, and if for no other reason than that I really wanted to like this concert. But after two decades, why are you still asking dancers to perform in impossible situations? Barefoot dancers doing fouette turns and jazz splits on an unsprung masonite floor in a too-small space is nothing short of a recipe for failure. Lo and behold, two dancers were wearing ankle braces by the end of opening night. It is, indeed, irreverent, if not irresponsible to run a dance company this way. The enthusiasm and tenacity this group has for dance is crystal clear, but the product is simply not matching the effort put in. I don’t wish to compare IDC to the big-budget companies who manage to create from a place of abundance and have full time jobs dancing, but, it couldn’t hurt to seek mentorship from others around town to filter this unbridled passion into a more productive model.


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.