Lucky Plush Breaks Into the Harris

My first thought upon walking into the house of the Lucky Plush Productions’ Mix at Six and seeing a bunch of strangers was:

“Why isn’t every single dancer I know at this show?!?”

Then I realized that the inexpensive happy hour performance series isn’t designed for dancers on a budget. Formally branded as Eat and Drink to the Beat, Mix at Six concerts are small bites combining local food truck fare and dance appetizers at an affordable price. Six Mix at Sixes are scattered throughout the 2015-16 season at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; last Thursday was Lucky Plush Productions’ turn and the house was well filled-in with groups of professionals for “The Plush’s” Harris debut.

Pierogi Street, the Yum Dum Truck and Cupcakes for Courage parked outside the theater and Revolution Brewery provided free beer; entering the theater, guests were in great spirits and the space was quickly filled with the magnificent aroma of food truck fare. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both works on the program before, both as excerpts and in their entirety: The company performed an excerpt of Cinderbox 2.0 at Spring to Dance in 2012, and a full-length version was one of the first shows in Links Hall‘s big Roscoe Village location. The Queue premiered a little later, also at Links Hall; the two works epitomize Lucky Plush’s cool and casual style bridging offstage and on, and encapsulate Artistic Director/choreographer Julia Rhoads’ commitment to individuality, accessibility, and technicality.

The Queue-7 Benjamin Wardell
The Cast of The Queue | photo credit: Benjamin Wardell

The casual atmosphere both in the house and onstage hide the fact that Lucky Plush’s dances are intricately planned, and the few hours that Mix at Six artists get in the theater to prep didn’t seem quite enough. Mix at Six is an awesome model, the Harris Theater is an excellent venue, and Lucky Plush is a fantastic company. And yet, the three didn’t quite seem to go together.

These are works that were originally built for intimate audiences and are best seen up close without the need for voice amplification. Moreover, these are works that were built on the eccentricities of the people in the room. The casts have changed a couple of times – in this iteration adding Elizabeth Luse and Daniel Gibson to The Queue in place of Cassandra Porter and Francisco Avina, and Michel Rodriguez Cintra filling Avina’s old role in Cinderbox 2.0. While the three match the rest of the cast in ability and personality, Rhoads’ strength is capitalizing on quirks and individual characteristics of her dancers when she creates her works. So much of Cinderbox 2.0 relies on the fact that Avina sweats a lot; when you replace him with a guy who merely glistens, some of the jokes lose their firepower.

Meghann Wilkinson and Benjamin Wardell in 'Cinderbox 2.0' | photo credit: Benjamin Wardell
Meghann Wilkinson and Benjamin Wardell in ‘Cinderbox 2.0’ | photo credit: Benjamin Wardell

For me, the things that make these pieces so special were lost in this outing, but most of the people in the audience wouldn’t know that. The goal of Mix at Six is to bring new audiences into the Harris in a casual, after work format, and by my calculation many of the nearly 800 people in the audience have likely never seen Lucky Plush Productions. They don’t know that Michel doesn’t sweat as much as Frankie. They don’t know that parts of these dances didn’t at all go according to plan. They don’t know that these works are even better when you’re 15 feet away from the dancers instead of 150. What makes a company good, however, is not that it is perfect every time, but that it can adapt when choas ensues. For the most part, Lucky Plush did that, and I can only hope that this crowd, who laughed out loud and jumped to its feet in adoration at the end, is now interested enough to see this mighty force in our community when it’s at its absolute best.

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.