Review: Older dancers of aMID Festival more individual than ever

January 29th, 2016

Dancers, like other living creatures, get old. So what? As the aMID Festival begins its final week at Links Hall, it’s clear that talented people remain talented, though they might approach their art with greater confidence or humor as they mature, becoming even more who they are.

Coincidentally, the continuity of the individual is central to “Human Apparatus,” an excerpt from an upcoming piece on the “quantified self” by Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts. Longtime Chicagoans now based in California, performers Sheldon Smith and Lisa Wymore give this text-laden, hilarious tidbit a manic energy steeped in the nerdy evangelism of Silicon Valley. Detailing every single prosaic element of his life, Smith tallies his steps, heart rate, what he delivers back to the environment (urine, methane gas), the wattage of his LED lamp.

At first he seems just a super-OCD guy who also happens to turn up naked on people’s doorsteps. Then Smith and Wymore begin a TED talk-style sermon on the utopia awaiting us if only we’d all start uploading our lives’ data to the cloud. That vision shifts into a comic-nightmare fantasy of Fitbit overkill: an even more nerdy life after death. In “Human Apparatus,” Smith and Wymore’s previous preoccupations — cultural criticism, technology — take flight in a satire sharper, funnier than ever.

Festival curator Michelle Kranicke of Zephyr Dance takes a sharp left turn from “Study #1,” performed on aMID’s first program, with “Study #2 — Not the Madison Dance, but a Love Letter Just the Same.” Where “Study #1” definitely strained attention, the much livelier “Study #2” provides a context to actually appreciate Kranicke, Sabrina Baranda and Molly Strom as performers.

The girders of “Study #2” are the simple steps of the Madison, a popular social dance of the late ’50s. Crossover steps, a kick, snapped fingers repeat and expand in mesmerizing, increasingly complex patterns accompanied by Kranicke’s sound design: a pared but effective rhythm track, a ghostly recording of “Love Is Blue,” an excruciating section of static and feedback. Both alienating and inviting, “Study #2” offers an alternate universe highlighting Kranicke’s separateness and, obliquely, her poignance and authority.

Pranita Jain of Chicago’s Mandala Arts performs “What the Body Remembers,” a series of solos illustrating the migration within one body from the classical Indian form of bharata natyam to more Western styles. At one point dancing with charming youngster Manou Chakrovarty, Jain reveals an admirable devotion to generational continuity. But her Eastern-influenced Western dancing remains conventional, lacking the edge of aMID’s other experiments.

Ohio State University professor Bebe Miller improvised “Duet With Piece of String” with Chicagoan Darrell Jones, a collaborator of 17 years. Both are truly fascinating movers, but their improvisation didn’t jell the way that Miller’s solo improv of the same title did here in 2011. Improv can be thrilling for everyone, of course, but the fun for observers is the heightened use of intuition and imagination. On Thursday I sensed a potentially interesting but ultimately unsatisfying power struggle, intimacy continually offered and refused, curtailed when Jones was seemingly dismissed from the stage.

Still, “Duet” delivered the evening’s most enjoyable dancing. Alone onstage, Miller responded to the music with an invention, an ease of body and face, enhanced by her maturity.

Laura Molzahn
Chicago Tribune

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