Esoteric Celebrates 5 Years with Juxtaposition (review)

A small but supportive audience fell on Links Hall’s white space for the opening night of Esoteric Dance Project’s Juxtaposition. EDP offered two works choreographed by husband/wife Artistic Directors Christopher Tucker and Brenna Pierson-Tucker. Tucker’s Orchestrated Homage in Five Movements and Pierson-Tucker’s Public Privacy were put together to illustrate disparate themes, and though many details are, indeed, quite different, the bones of the works from these Cornish alums are cut from the same cloth.

EDP’s mission is to celebrate technique and promote artistry through the exploration and expansion of codified vocabularies. Both works on last weekend’s program were tightly composed, though Public Privacy was perhaps more playful and unrestrained. Tucker’s Orchestrated Homage in Five Movements follows its Bach score note for note as he explores compositional modes in classical music as a choreographic tool. Having a background in classical music, seeing the fugue, concerto, sonata, etude, and recapitulation occur through movement was extremely gratifying, casting a smirk across my face as I watched it all unfold. Tucker’s movement is relentless, and hard, and I’m left wondering what my experience with the work might have been without having spent my Saturday mornings in Orchestra practice for many years. It’s smart… REALLY smart, but asks a lot of dancers who only rehearse twice a week; by the end, they were so exhausted we could hear them gasping for breath in the dressing room.

Public Privacy, choreographed by Brenna Pierson-Tucker, courtesy of Esoteric Dance Project

Pierson-Tucker used recorded text of heard conversations and sounds on public transportation to inspire her Public Privacy. Like Orchestrated Homage, it is fast, technical, and has some fun, quirky moments. The text points to all the things we reveal in public spaces – the appropriate, random, inappropriate and/or simply mundane words that fill the space between ‘L’ stops. At first it is really nice to hear these snippets in discreet chunks of text. Over time, the sound score is wanting for more – an overlapping, change in volume, etc. – to help advance the relentless wall of monochromatic movement coming at us. Most rewarding, perhaps, is Public Privacy‘s section downstage in which the eight dancers mimic getting off of a crowded train at rush hour, for it provides a moment of relief from Pierson-Tucker’s overwhelming movement vocabulary.

Per usual with EDP, all the details are attended to. Beautiful costumes, matching hair-dos, good technique, elegant production value (even at Links Hall)… the truth is, Esoteric puts on a tight show that is really pretty to look at. Now in its fifth year, EDP has been chipping away bit by bit and shows a lot of growth since my last viewing of their work. The Tuckers are conscientiously molding their brand, refining their aesthetic, and working to engage with the community. As EDP continues to settle in, it will be interesting to watch the company evolve. My suspicion is, at this pace, EDP’s next five years will turn them into something quite special.

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.