Some things old and something new for Esoteric’s 5th (review)

Esoteric Dance Project (EDP) was formed in 2010, and after five full seasons, co-directors Brenna Pierson-Tucker and Christopher Tucker took a walk down memory lane for REvisited/REnewed last weekend at the Preston Bradley Center in Uptown.

Small FlyerMason Hall, a gorgeous, rustic, out-of-the-way, up-four-flights-of-stairs,vastly underutilized space shares a building with the People’s Church at the Preston Bradley Center. Underutilized, perhaps, by audiences too; Esoteric’s Sunday evening performance was sparsely attended. To be fair, EDP was going to bat against more than a handful of Nutcrackers, not to mention a bunch of other holiday-themed hubbub.

Plus, the number of audience members isn’t necessarily any mark on the quality of the thing, and per usual, Esoteric brought us a polished and professional product. The husband and wife team never skimp on the details, and it perhaps for this reason that I really want them to succeed.

In this effort, they mostly did. Two duets on the program I’ve seen before, and both benefitted from the steeping time since they were created in 2011 and 12.

Sarah Schmitt and Kara McDonald are almost mirror images of each other in the program opener, Unsilenced Thoughts of Two Women. Bookends of a nostalgic Tom Waits score paired with Ani DiFranco’s My I.Q. accompany the women who, dressed in feminine frocks, pass a fury of angry dancing back and forth before ending in two chairs, looking nose to nose.

The other duet, iloveyouihateyou, is a cheeky pas de deux for Pierson-Tucker and her beau. I would have love to have seen stronger characterization to complement this smart and challenging duet, but we generally feel an authenticity to this work that is lacking in some of Esoteric’s more abstract dances.

The only new work on the program, an untitled excerpt-in-progress, is Christopher Tucker’s exploration into his personal battle with testicular cancer. A departure from Tucker’s m.o. for methodical perfunctoriness, this work is emotional and overt, so much so that sometimes Tucker couldn’t remain on his leg. An intentional slice at the groin is a recurring motif as the ensemble of women, dressed in doctors’ white coats, poke and prod at him throughout the second section, manipulating him, in some cases, to the point of humiliation. The work will benefit from further development leading up to its premiere in 2016, however I found it refreshing to see EDP outside its comfort zone, and brave of Chris Tucker to attack such a personal topic through dance.

The whole evening, in fact, was a bit outside the norm for this company, who has previously presented work almost exclusively at Links Hall. Taking risks, making it personal, trying new things and new spaces, is exactly what this company will need to take it to the next level – it’s up to us, however, to give them leave to go for it and figure it out.

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.