DIY ‘Mess Hall’ Brings New Voices to the Fore (review)


The Coincidentals
Heavy rain and the three steep flights of stairs up to Outerspace Studios couldn’t keep away the crowd as The Coincidentals’ Mess Hall convened for its second installment in two seasons. The series brings young artists, mostly friends and former Columbia College classmates of producers Jamie Corliss and Lydia Feuerhelm, together for what looks like a standard emerging artist showcase. What makes Mess Hall different, however, is the unique rehearsal residency leading up to the performance; artists rehearse together in the same space, so each and every rehearsal is essentially a works-in-progress showing in which the choreographers receive feedback from each other in real time.

In this iteration, nine dances created by eleven individuals came one after the other, with ideas ranging from Dan Derks and Dina Liberatore’s real-time sound manipulation with improvised dance, to Emily Loar’s metaphorical and literal love affair with beets. Janell Huckstadt’s Winter, Crocus utilized plastic take-away bags (now somewhat hard to source, I imagine) attached to Corliss, Lindsey Lee and Andy Slavin in a beautiful mess set to out-of-key Rachmaninoff, while Porscha Spells’ Gourmandize was both an exercise in restraint and excess as two dancers donning white lace collars and training bras obeyed a seated, strict unison of gestures while smearing their faces with kiwis and fruit juice.

In her pre-show announcements, Jamie Corliss stated that “Mess Hall is messy.” Each work on the program is presented at varying stages of development, “and, we are here to validate all of that,” she said.

Me too.

Taking Mess Hall at face value, it’s hard to say if this process yielded different results than a traditional one-artist-per-rehearsal scenario, since we are only privy to the end result: a 2-show, low-tech engagement featuring emerging choreographers and snippets of works at various states of completion. What surprised me, however, was the arists’ maturity and lack of similarity between each piece, especially given the collaborative process and intense amount of suggestions I image each of these young dance makers received from each other.

Mess Hall left me questioning what happens to these works now that it’s over, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. With most of these choreographers fresh out of school, the excuse to simply make something and put it out there can be highly beneficial; the chance to develop it further or produce the work in a formal concert might be a bonus for future Mess Halls to consider.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.