A wonderful future for RE | Dance, Chande

In a shadowy dance studio, people are caught by the camera halfway between dancing and falling

CHICAGO—Leaving Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Friday, tannins of RE | Dance’s “A Delicate Hand” still swirled in my brain. Its grape and oaky hues on costumes clothing dancers of a certain age reveling in bodies honed by decades in motion as they bob and weave among glowing cubes which cast an ethereal radiance on these hallowed grounds.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

In her remarks, before a trio emerged from the pre-school classroom that acts as a Hamlin Park’s dressing room for an appetizer by choreographer KT Williams, RE | Dance co-founder and executive director Lucy Riner talked about turning 50. She said the 14-year-old company she shares with Michael Estanich keeps coming back to Hamlin for their annual concert because it’s affordable. And because the spirit of Nana Shineflug is there.

Indeed, you could almost feel Nana in the house last night. I was consumed by nostalgia, even watching the future: Savannah Jenkins, Leondria McRae and Aislinn Travis don 90s zebra print and lamé, committing wholeheartedly to a clever twist on the search for joy and getting off the proverbial hamster wheel—in this case, represented by a portable treadmill placed just feet away from one of four sides of audience.

“| | \,” or “three,” as Williams calls it, precedes “A Delicate Hand,” easily the best of Estanich’s extensive catalog, created through a unique process necessitated by his longtime faculty appointment with University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point.

Estanich brain dumps on the RE | dancers during break weeks from the university—dancers who’ve in many cases danced with and for him for over a decade—leaving Riner to finesse and clean the piece before it premieres in Chicago.

It doesn’t always work, with the idea and the execution sometimes not quite coalescing. But in this case, Estanich’s unparalleled imagination and verbose dance vocabulary blend perfectly, thanks in large part to original music by Mark D. Burns, played live by Burns and Nick Kabat. Those glowing boxes and street light bleeding in through Hamlin’s paned windows did the lion’s share of atmosphere-making, elegantly accentuated by Sarah Lackner, whose subtle glow-ups routinely hit the mark for RE | Dance’s worlds.

“A Delicate Hand” seems an abstract response to lots of things: the pandemic, questions of consent, the way life wants to unceremoniously pull us away from each other and into our screens. “A Delicate Hand” offers invitations to connect: literally—in a quasi game of Simon Says between Estanich, Riner and Corinne Imberski—and figuratively, in the way Estanich architects a glorious jumble of little duets and trios running simultaneously between two sets of audience positioned up- and downstage.

It’s a world that seems spectacularly simple until you look more closely at it—like a detailed piece of lace.

I walked away from Anjal Chande’s “Next Cup of Tea” Thursday night with similar feelings: contemplative complexity, nostalgia and a deep sense of respect and admiration for artists who continue making things despite life’s incessant attempts to get them to do otherwise.

Some artists would say they make things because they have to.

“Dance saved me,” Riner said in her remarks after the show.

Maybe, but if the pandemic proved anything, it’s that life without live art is possible, though perhaps not super enjoyable. Still, those of us who routinely (or pathologically, in my case) sit in the audience can only be amazed at artists’ tenacity and capacity to reach out and hold a mirror up to our lives.

Leaving the theater, Willie Nelson’s “Wonderful Future” shuffled into my algorithm, which honestly describes my weekend better than I ever could.