‘Delve’ dabbles deftly (review)

CHICAGO — Producer/choreographer Rachel Katz packed us in tightly for the one-night-only Delve at Menomonee Club’s Drucker Center in Lincoln Park. The fourth of its kind, Katz’s mission is to present a variety of up-and-coming choreographers, and indeed, this bento box of dance contained small bites in a great many flavors with a wide spectrum of jazz and contemporary offerings and a little ballet. Each of the dances on the program, twelve in all, was brief, so what could have been an exhausting evening was a tightly produced 90-minute package, pleasant even considering an audience packed in like sardines.*

L to R: Amanda Pease, Kimberly Baker, Rebecca Crystal and Valerie Lober in Rachel Katz's "Spring Night"
L to R: Amanda Pease, Kimberly Baker, Rebecca Crystal and Valerie Lober in Rachel Katz’s “Spring Night” | Photo: Eileen Meslar

The 5-8 minute length on each of Delve‘s dances probably made the evening as a whole better, though a concert called Delve is begging for a couple in-depth investigations. For many of these works — particularly two solos: Tajh Stallworth’s The Cimmerian for Naomi O’Connor set to sound and music bites from Kurt Cobain, Jefferson Airplane, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian, among others, and Ashley Deran’s reimagination of Ericka Vaughn Lashley’s psychological Irascatur, and Alana Deitch’s quartet Reaction inspired by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — it’s simply impossible to bring these weighty topics to fruition in five minutes.

Others leaned more toward the ridiculous, with Connor Cornelius’ What do you Do? set to French polka/rap fusion (if that’s a thing) and J. Lindsay Brown’s Group Project: a silly two-parter forming the chaotic musings of fourth graders (part one) into a grown-up dance (part two). Three jazzy pieces on the program from Paula Ward, April Torneby and Earlyn Whitehead brought us very up close and cozy with the most technical dancing of the night, and for the most part the risks taken by these three, and everyone else, for that matter, paid off. My biggest complaint is that I left wanting more. Not more length, exactly, but more depth and leg room (figuratively and literally).* To Katz’s credit, there was something interesting about everything up there, but many if not most of her selections could be better by diving (delving?) beneath the surface of the idea and exploiting it from all angles.

As the Delve showcase matures Katz has some decisions to make, all requiring an upgrade of sorts. Whether she opts for a two-evening engagement or a larger, more comfortable space* remains to be seen, but Katz has tapped into a faction of the dance community that is largely unseen, mostly female, and has much to say. Moreover, a lot of energy has lately been put into discussing the dearth of women producers and choreographers. At the risk of conjecture, the number of women creating and presenting dance is not the problem; rather, the lack of opportunities for women choreographers to plow through the small budget bubble is limiting the height of their platform. But Rachel Katz shouldn’t worry about any of that, for now. Simply forge ahead with your keen curatorial eye and unique lens on Chicago dance.

* I should maybe point out that I had a very comfortable chair in the front row, and these comments are merely sympathizing with what I imagine the experience was like in row 3, 4, or 5.

Feature photo L to R: Katherine Stewart, Justine Gagne, Jessica Hublick, Sara Daudlin in Alana Deitch’s Reaction  | photo by Eileen Meslar

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.