Synapse returns to roots in ‘Openwork’

CHICAGO — A decade ago, Rachel Damon sat in a tree knitting a long red scarf. Her fledgling company performed many works like these — site-specific installations using multiple mediums — as we saw Synapse Arts Collective performing in parks, crosswalks and atop fabricated clouds. Since that time, Damon assumed leadership of the once-collective of multi-disciplinary artists, and the rebranded Synapse Arts refined its mission, upped its game, and dropped the homespun, crafty vibe of its early days.

The works of Synapse Arts have become increasingly abstract, with angsty content built on Damon’s angular movement vocabulary. But in her private life, Damon continued to knit as if she never came down from that tree. Synapse’s latest called Openwork (through Sunday at Links Hall) joins together her public and private lives in using needlework as the source for movement invention and a massive textile installation within the performance space.

Katie Matteson Campana and Gretchen Soechting by Matthew Gregory Hollis
Katie Matteson Campana and Gretchen Soechting by Matthew Gregory Hollis

On entering the room, audience members find four women in a circle knitting by hand, busying themselves with “women’s work.” The sense of work and busi-ness permeates the evening as the set is unravelled, reconfigured, and reconstructed each night. More so than the dancing, the manipulation of the textiles is what best commands my attention as I realize the balance between strength and fragility in the mass of loops and slipknots before me, and the parallels that can be drawn to womanhood. Openwork demonstrates a degree of delicacy and femininity that Synapse audiences may be unused to, but the multi-year project is one in which Damon lets down her defenses and explores previously unseen parts of her life.

Openwork runs through Sunday, 7pm at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $10-20, available online at Seating may be limited at the door. Some seats encourage a small degree of audience participation.

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.