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aMID Festival Review- Great Dance Performers in Mid-Career

January 22nd, 2016

This month, Zephyr Dance and Links Hall, 3111 N. Western, Chicago are hosting two programs called the” aMID Festival”,  focusing on mature and aging virtuoso performers. The programs feature guest artists Deborah Hay, Bob Eisen and Cynthia Oliver from January 21st to January 25th and Bebe Miller, Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts and Pranita Jain from January 28th through January 31st. The scope of each dance is strong and dynamic, and everybody interested in unusual and exhilarating performance would enjoy these shows at historic Links Hall. Zephyr Dance founder and artistic director Michelle Kranicke, who serves as curator for the Festival and whose innovative company has itself been responsible for broadening the understanding of what is possible in dance  in Chicago for over 20 years has commented, “The Festival will accentuate the aesthetic shifts that come with a consistent art/movement practice, as well as those that accompany working with one’s body as it ages and changes”.

The first dance on Friday night’s program at Links Hall was performed by Deborah Hay, an experimental choreographer and author working in the field of postmodern dance. Hay was an early member of the Judson Dance Theater, “which became one of the most radical and explosive postmodern 20th –century art movements”, in that radical era, the 1960’s. She’s had a long, varied and most interesting career, challenging the staid concepts of dance: working with untrained dancers, without an audience, with other accompanying art forms. She’s worked with many other artists from different areas, received numerous grants and fellowships, awards and honors. Her third book, “My Body, the Buddhist”, (Wesleyan University Press, 2000) has been called “an introspective series of reflections on the major lessons of life that she has learned from her body while dancing”. Hay’s two- part dance, entitled “My Choreographed Body”, performed before an audience of 20 in Links Halls all-white performance venue, seemed absolutely an effort to embody the Festival’s aesthetic concept. She appeared to be examining and reflecting on her body’s abilities and limitations as she carefully and studiously made her way about the space, sometimes casting complex and elegant shadows under the lights on the wall behind her. Hay’s movements concentrated extensively on complicated extensions of the arms, occasionally emitting Oriental-sounding phrases, making eye contact with each and every audience member. Portions of the piece were reminiscent of the emergence of an exotic bird. When it was over, one felt like one’s senses had been massaged and were more acutely toned.

Next, Zephyr Dance performed an unusual piece entitled “Study #1-The Body in Relation to Object”, choreographed by Michelle Kranicke. In pertinent part, two dancers remained bent over, head down while Kranicke first carried in an enormous roll of paper and then unwrapped it around her. All three dancers were clad in beautiful white gauzy pieces by Amanda Lee Frank; through most of the piece, all you could see of Kranicke was a muscular arm and hand. Kranicke has been quoted as saying “I am constantly moved to investigate what the body and movement can reveal”- this piece certainly was a demonstration of that investigation.

Third on the bill was a duet called “Zulpez” starring Bob Eisen and Kevin Fay, choreographed by Bob Eisen, one of the founders of Links Hall, an incubator for Chicago dance experimentation.  This piece was a frenetic combination of almost ceaselessly moving windmilled arms and crazy facial expressions. Eisen has been called “one of Chicago’s foremost avant-garde dance artists”, but in this piece you can clearly see the influence of his prior work as a mental health specialist and the influence of improvisational theatre and mime work. The movements were tight and spot-on, and worked well together, except for an inexplicable but thankfully brief appearance by the nude Eisen.

The evenings ‘ last piece was “BOOM”, by COCo Dance Theatre, choreographed and danced by Cynthia Oliver and Leslie Cuyjet. It was the audience’s and this reviewer’s favorite-witty, timeless, meaningfully and beautifully danced with a dramatic accompanying prose-poem. The two great athletes performed this remarkable duet as “individuals, friends, strangers, family, younger/older versions of themselves”. The dynamically chanted words-begun as offstage bickering, and continued as vibrant stirring outbursts – dramatically underscore the meaning of life when our concept of fairness does not coincide with events. The unusual duet had the two covering a lot of space on stage in unison, challenging and celebrating life and themselves. The adorable hippie-inspired costumes are by Susan Becker, the original bouncing score by Jason Finkleman. Cynthia Oliver has danced with numerous companies, is Professor and MFA Program Co-director at the University of Illinois, and has extensively toured with U of I  alumni Cuyjet in the evening-length version of Boom.

Debra Davy
Splash Magazines

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