My sophomore year of college, I took an interdisciplinary seminar in ecology and economics. We discussed how Midwestern prairie lands have changed over time, and the impact of economic development on our natural landscapes. We visited Prairie Crossing – a weird amalgamation of suburbia, farmland and natural prairie, mostly owned by Waste Management.
As The Space/Movement Project (TSMP)’s 10th anniversary season comes to a close, the world premiere of Bottom’s Edge explores Chicago’s hidden natural landscapes through a similar lens. The dancers assume postures alluding to soft prairie grasses blowing in the wind, or sunflowers with faces upturned to the sky. Performed onstage at Pritzker Pavilion with the glass doors closed, audience members sit onstage to view TSMP’s delicate dancing hinting at all things natural juxtaposed with the Pritzker’s modern, metal canopy and a glowing Chicago skyline in the background.
Bottom’s Edge takes cues from TSMP’s 2014 The Dismantlers, in which a group of audience members sat onstage peering out at the Ruth Page Center’s plush velvet seats. Moreover, the all-female cast takes a similarly Butoh-ish pace as the work slowly develops. An original music score by Frank Rosaly, Shelly Steffens, Ryan Ingebritsen and New York-based Skye Steele that hints at walking through crunchy fields, bull frogs croaking, and twilight bliss feels comforting and nostalgic in one moment and vexatious in the next. Viewers are left to decide if the dancers are harbingers of joy or dismay toward a land that continues to change, and yet never changes.
That was really vague, wasn’t it?
We could look to urban farming or Prairie Crossing for examples of the thing TSMP is trying to get at in their dance. I’ll choose Cabrini Green.
Once celebrated as the leading model for mixed-income housing, Cabrini’s eventual decline and demolition were met with many mixed opinions. The clearing that emerged after all the rubble was removed regenerated into a natural prairie full of native grasses and wildlife until Target planted a big, red bulls eye in its place. Is this what we call progress? Maybe, or maybe not, but the only thing not up for debate is the ability of our landscapes to recover again and again and again.
This group of women has changed slightly over the past decade, but TSMP’s unique mission has never wavered. The company’s mission is to create work through a completely egalitarian process, in which each dancer has equal say in the choreography and, to a certain extent, the administration and direction of the company. Long time TSMP-ers Larisa Eastman, recent Chicago expat Allyson Esposito, new mom Anne Kasdorf, Leah Raffanti, and Megan Schneeberger are joined for this engagement by guest artists Mindy Meyers and former company member Chloe Nisbett Bornstein.
As a result of their collaborative process, up to 10 women have to sign off on each movement choice. Does this lead to discord? Probably, but no one can honestly say that TSMP’s work isn’t thoughtful and worth knowing.
TSMP presents “Bottom’s Edge” as part of DCASE’s annual contemporary dance series, SpinOff. Performances are Friday, November 6 and Saturday, November 7 at 8:00PM on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Stage, Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph Street). Tickets are free, but reservations are required at eventbrite.com.
ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT: Mad Shak presents a fantastic duet with Molly Shanahan and Jeff Hancock called “And We Shall Be Rid of Them” Thursday-Saturday in the dance studio at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington, 1st floor). Performances are at 6:30pm, free, and currently at capacity, however wait list seating opens at 5:30pm each evening.