"Synapse" rocks the Harris Review-Visceral Dance Chicago's "SpringFOUR" tour de force

On April 8th, Visceral Dance Chicago put on “SpringFOUR” to a full house at The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. Visceral Dance has emerged as a strong, well-balanced company with a distinctive and powerful aesthetic style. Their programs are characterized by a fiercely individual sensibility combined with an artistic sensitivity informed by an expanding repertoire of fine eclectic work, much of it choreographed by founder Nick Pupillo. “SpringFOUR” featured the sophisticated stagecraft/impressive lighting of Nathan Tomlinson and Brian Sidney Bembridge, costumes by Paul Daingle, Maggie Dianovsky and Nathan Rohrer, and the carefully selected, seamlessly integrated music for which Visceral Dance has become known.

It should also be noted the company is a testament to the principles of diversity, access and inclusion, in the backgrounds of it's members, in the selection of choreographers, and in the dance expression itself.


Visceral Dance Chicago perform "Synapse"; photo by Michelle Reid

The program consisted of four fine pieces, two choreographed by Artistic Director Nick Pupillo, including last season’s new work, “Atlas”, 2016, and a world premiere, “Synapse”, 2017. Also performed were a piece known to Chicago from the Visceral Dance repertoire, Spanish choreographer Monica Cervantes’ “Changes”, 2014, and a new work for the company choreographed by Canadian Mark Godden, “Minor Threat”, 1996.

Rigorous perfectionist/master conceptualist Pupillo’s “Atlas”, which premiered last October, is a demonstration of imagination transformed by athletic prowess. The concept behind this extremely graceful modern ballet is “the feeling of wearing the weight of the world on one’s shoulders”.  There are moments on stage when the black-clad dancers are lifting and supporting each other in ways unlike those seen in traditional dance; the sense is the dancers need help to manage the experiences of life. Set to the beautiful and complicated music of The Turin String Quartet, couples swirl in smoky light, creating a sense of dedicated relationships. At one point, a shower of  light pours down upon them like rain, bringing relief and sustenance, a brilliant moment.

Visceral Dance Chicago in "Atlas"; photo by Katie Miller


Mark Godden came to Indiana University when Nick Pupillo was a senior there and he danced “Minor Threat”; it was, he claims, “One of my best moments. The work is technically challenging but it has so much style!” For “SpringFOUR”, Pupillo reached out to Godden, and asked him to set “Minor Threat” with Visceral Dance; he knows the choreographer was distinctly pleased with the results. Beautifully performed in perfect synch to 2 movements of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto in D Minor’, K. 466, this was a stylistic exercise in modern dance-infused lyrical balletic images.  The work is both delicately formed and filled with life. There are numerous exciting duets that included the dancers sliding across the stage, holding each other down, and appearing to inscribe each other’s persons with important secrets. At intervals, the dancers traversed the stage with stylized movements, caught in an impassioned drama.


"Minor Threat", Visceral Dance Chicago; photo by Leni-Manaa Hoppenworth


Cervantes is the second choreographer after Pupillo himself to work with the Visceral Dance members. The experience, says Pupillo, “Changed the company dramatically. Her movement vocabulary is so unique, and they were so enormously inspired by her!” “Changes”, reinvented for “SpringFOUR”, has become a signature work for Visceral Dance. It has been described as “the exploration of a complex world of mutating relationships.” The spectrum of moves reflected in this work is wide and deep, a veritable kaleidoscope of images reflected in the insightful body language of the troupe.  Set to iconic music by F**k Buttons and Phillip Glass, the piece included split-second reversals, stunning duets and solo work with powerful lifts filled with emotion. Dressed in casual cream-colored short dresses and singlets, moving toward a final explosion of confetti-like particles which exuded on the stage, the work signifies “embedded snapshots” of vignette segments “taken from everyday life”.


Visceral Dance Chicago performs "Changes"; photo by Cheryl Mann

The last piece on the program, “Synapse”, was a stunning visual tour de force, very exciting, very hot. Composer Darryl Hoffman’s driving beat in four distinct sections of music framed the gorgeous dancers costumed, male and female alike, in sexy scarlet-spangled leotards. From the ceiling depended long columns of white light, weightless and translucent, these LED tubes line the stage. The dance opened with the full company flanked by these sizzling elements, totally lit, partially lit, lit in different combinations. To the driving beat, the dancers, portraying nerve impulses, vessels of raw energy, dodge and play with the lighting, strutting their stuff with witty and infectious energy. The lights flash from white to red and the dancers are red-hot; they touch the light, they play with the light, they ARE the light!

The Harris Theater commissioned the new dance; Pupillo wanted to do something “different and bold”. The piece is completely immersive- it was impossible for the audience to remain unmoved, to remain still. It was a joyous ending to a wonderful evening, funky and fun!


Visceral Dance Chicago in the premiere of "Synapse"; photo by Michelle Reid

For information about and tickets to their wonderful programs, go to the visceraldance website





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