CHICAGO — At a cozy 119 seats, the Edgewater neighborhood’s new Edge Theater fills a much-needed gap in the dance community. It provides a critical step up between 50-seat DIY spaces such as Links Hall and Hamlin Park field house and more daunting venues such as Ruth Page and the Athenaeum Theatre. Taking a chance on this beefier space, Esoteric Dance Project and Project Bound Dance combined their resources this weekend for a shared bill of contemporary dance at the Edge.
The Edge is not without limitations; most noticeable is its relatively small stage compared to spaces built exclusively for dance. Depending on the nature of the choreography, even a trio can look squished, as Esoteric’s three offerings tended to feel Saturday night. Co-artistic director Christopher Tucker’s tall, broad stature seemed to stretch the width of the entire stage in his solo section from “Random Acts of Phrasing”. This, an excerpt from his 2017 work “The Superfluity of Movement: Section of Silly Walks” and a reprise of “After the Nickel Runs Out” seemed uncharacteristically staid for a company whose technique typically shines front and center in its work.
But there is also self-imposed restraint which gives this concert, under the title “Separate Thoughts, Shared Space,” a playful vibe rooted in choreographic experimentation: “Random Acts of Phrasing” employs dance making devices created by famed minimalists Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham; “After the Nickel” uses strict repetition to convey the humdrum of life as a Vaudevillian show girl on display for others’ pleasure; Project Bound presents two solo works that deal explicitly with lines of spoken or recorded text; and the evening opened with a series of one-minute dance films from Project Bound’s ongoing exploration of dance tapas, in which choreographers are given 60 minutes to make a 60-second dance for the camera.
It’s a bit like looking at pages from a choreographer’s scrapbook, with each company laying out bits and pieces, ideas and excerpts, teasing their audience by playing with constraints to time, space, and process. And something about that feels satisfying.
The evening also serves as a coming out party of sorts for Emily Loar, who this season assumes co-directorship of Project Bound with Ashley Deran. Deran and co-founder Ericka Vaughn Byrne’s combined choreographic voice will be missed, particularly in watching Rachel Molinaro perform their 2014 “Excerpt 1,” a gorgeous solo set to text by Conor McShane about getting stuck in the rain.
What Vaughn Byrne brought to the table was the blythe and honest spirit of her roots in the now defunct Striding Lion Performance Group. But Loar performed a solo with text, too, and side-by-side these works show that her voice is symbiotic with the essence of this young company — something also evidenced by a strong work-in-progress for six dancers called “Notified.” Inspired by pop-up notifications and the bleeps and bloops of our phones and computers (composed with a pulsating score by Erica Ricketts), Deran and Loar’s compelling use of gesture and phrase work alluding to our devices’ maddening vie for attention in the digital age closed the evening on a high note.
“Separate Thoughts, Shared Space” runs through 6:00 p.m. Sunday at the Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway. Tickets are $20-30 at esotericdance.com or projectbounddance.com.
Header photo: Rachel Molinaro in “Excerpt 1” by Project Bound Dance | photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis