Spring Three Visceral Dance Review- an exhilarating dance program

On April 9, Visceral Dance Chicago, founded in 2013 by Nick Pupillo and already lauded as an exciting and important addition to Chicago’s dance scene, presented “Spring Three” at The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, Chicago.  The program consisted of 5 pieces, including two world premieres, a collaboration with the Chicago Philharmonic, and two returning works. The entire set of performances, expertly tied together with extremely clever lighting and stagecraft furnished an evening to remember. Pupillo’s stated vision is “to explore the infinite possibilities of contemporary movement”; these dances achieved that goal. The members of the ensemble demonstrated a strong athleticism, a dense and inherent technical proficiency, and a lot of passion. The costumes throughout were sexy, superbly coordinated and perfectly fitted.

Ruff Celts by Marguerite Donlon; Noelle Kayser, James Barrett, Brandon Coleman

First on the stage was “The Last Round”, choreographed by Nick Pupillo, 2016, and performed with violinists, viola, cello and bass from the Chicago Philharmonic, to the score of Osvaldo Golijov’s “Last Round”, described as “a string nonet with all the flair of his wildly varied influences: Argentine tango, klezmer, avante-garde music…” Nine ensemble dancers clad in romantic tango-inspired black and red costumes- some  of the women's as long as flamenco dancers', some abbreviated as those of ice-skaters -danced in groups and couples in a passionate, lyrical and yet strongly delineated tribute to romantic dance forms.

The Last Round by Nick Pupilllo; Marissa Horton, Owen Scarlett and Noelle Kayser

“She Three”, choreographed by Nick Pupillo in 2015,  and already known and loved by Chicago’s dance audience was next on the bill. Three gilded ballerinas, Caitlin Cucchiara, Marissa Horton and Kelsey Middleton, lie facedown on stage as the curtain rises, brilliantly spotlit from above. They seem almost to swim on stage, the curtain still two-thirds down, and ultimately stand, appearing as elongated El-Greco-inspired figutes as the curtain and lights rise above them. Clad in diaphanous nude garments  designed by Branimira Ivanova, their muscles visible in the searching light, the dancers pulse  with energy as the trio turns, moving  with, under and over each other. The impossibly graceful women seem to express a lyrical vision of WOMEN- perhaps “I, thee, we”.

She Three by Nick Pupillo; Marissa Horton, Caitlin Cucchiara, and Kelsey Middleton

Next on the bill was the world premiere of Marguerite Donlon’s “Ruff Celts”,  a piece  for 10 dancers set to brilliant and exuberant sound, including the music of Sinead O’Connor, and also containing eerie and otherworldly shouts, chants and exhalations. The costumes were revealing and sexy-almost dominatrix-inspired for the ladies, the men in long dark kilts, torsos bare save for white ruffs.  Once again, the by now signature Visceral Dance partially raised curtain reveals the strong line of dancers in a row; they writhe and turn to each other. The shadows rise behind them, and the eye records differences between the dancers in front and their lit images behind. The vibrant and vigorous modern moves include stamping, rhythmic jumping,  sometimes humorous and robotic solos occasionally embracing break-dancing. We are drawn into the world of pre-bagpipe skirling, of women who mime spitting on the men, of arcane forest meetings, of aboriginal language, of amazons. The stage artistry includes exhaled smoke puffs. The moves are fluid, yet barbaric, the athletes clean-limbed like forest sprites. It was a great spectacle and a rare treat to observe.

Ruff Celts by Marguerite Donlon

After the intermission came the return of the surreal and French-farce inspired “Bate” by Fernando Melo, 2005, danced by seven in the ensemble, but centering on 5 men. The piece was reportedly inspired “by the spirit of Brazilian soap operas and the masculine world of the Samba”. Once again, the curtain half rises to reveal a white bridal gown train, trailing and trailing, longer and longer across the stage, containing a flowerpot with a red bloom. The groom lies hidden under the train; more pots will signal the end. The men are served up in bits, in pieces, appearing in window-like appertures. They morph into blow-up dolls and eventually they emerge full-blown, sporting cartoon hearts. They are joint and several, in love yet torn. Toward the end, they turn their backs on us. it’s very clever and beautifully done.

Bate by Fernando Melo; Adam McGaw, Karl Watson, James Barrett

Finally, the company performed the world premiere of “Vital”, by Nick Pupillo, danced by 10, opens with a couple in white who turn toward each other as bells ring out. The two are soon joined by a man playing a xylophone, while a tree apparently made of large metal filings is revealed stage right. The rest of the dancers appear, all clad in spare white creations by Branimira Ivanova. The lighting is clear, almost piercing, with strong percussion, and music by David Lang and Peter Ferry.  This lyrical modern piece demonstrated flawless individual work of a strongly balletic nature. The dancers run and pause; they leap and stop; they resemble a flock of deer turning quickly and freezing in the headlights.

Vital by Nick Pupillo; Noelle Kayser, Peter Ferry

For more information on the programs for Visceral Dance Chicago, go to www.visceraldance.com

Vital by Nick Pupillo

Photos courtesy of Cheryl Mann



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