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Growing Choreographers


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Amy Alt, Ann Boyd, and Marianne Kim

at the Chicago Cultural Center, through June 11

Strange new airs waft through the dances of Ann Boyd, Marianne Kim, and Amy Alt, carrying a contagious sense of playfulness, a willingness to take risks, and a shaky comfort with the act of making bodies speak. Sometimes it feels like a warm, wet sea breeze. Other times it feels like comfortable, climate-controlled air-conditioning. And still other times it feels like a gusty free spirit that touches the shoulder of one dancer, then flits off to the next.

The language of movement is difficult to master. All of these women are young, impressive dancers now trying their wings as choreographers in the Hedwig Dance Lab program, which serves as an incubator for them by providing rehearsal space, mentoring, and a series of showings during which choreographers and audience members discuss the dances. The final result is a fully produced concert like this one, "Seeing Triple," which features lighting by Ken Bowen.

Bowen's uncanny talent as a designer can bring out the depth in any dance. Not that his lighting is necessary to these five dances, but it proves a point. Alt, Boyd, and Kim are working in a rarefied, difficult environment. They have received guidance from some of Chicago's top choreographers: Hedwig Dances artistic director Jan Bartoszek, X-Sight's Timothy O'Slynne, Ballet Chicago's Gordon Peirce Schmidt. They were nurtured. And the nurturing paid off.

Alt's Git-Together and Kim's Wishing on a Pink Bazooka are extremely well structured, entertaining works. And Boyd's concept in the text/choreography piece Sister Sister is intriguing even if the dance's structure feels slightly out of balance. Less successful are Kim's Wagon Red and Boyd's Neither Here nor There, which are older works. Neither makes much of an impression.

Each choreographer has developed a distinctive style based on her own way of working. Alt likes to build her dances formally, piece by piece. She focuses on structure, then at the very end she adds a dab of emotion on top, like whipped cream on a sundae. She begins Git-Together with a few complicated movement phrases, harmoniously combining ballet turns and modern dance leaps with lively pieces of an Irish jig. Then she carefully cuts and rearranges, stacking pieces on each other the way a kid would build a castle out of Legos. The result is a whimsical celebration of dancing: six women twirling and spinning, creating colorful patterns of movement and enjoying every moment of it.

Boyd comes from the opposite direction. She seems to begin with emotion, then allows her movement to grow out of it. Sister Sister is a haunting piece about a woman's memory of a time when her mother tried to drown her, drawn from a short story by Maia Morgan. The style of Boyd's choreography lies somewhere between the crisp clarity of the story and the surreal suggestiveness of Bowen's watery images. Sometimes her dancers seem to be swimming. Other times they seem like little girls jumping on the bed, or floating on a raft 100 yards from shore. Boyd's ideas are strong, and her choreography adds a slippery layer of emotion to the piece. But often the words and film segments seem to wash over her movement and diminish its impact.

Kim's Wishing on a Pink Bazooka has an entirely different aesthetic than the slow, detailed style, resembling Japanese Butoh, she works with in Wagon Red and other pieces. The divine muses for this piece are suburban shopping malls and television. Working with this climate-controlled reality, Kim creates a beautiful example of living comfortably as children of the atomic era. Her six dancers dress in bright tights and bathing suits from the 1950s. They seem to move without willing it, whether they're playing "James Bond" with Day-Glo water pistols, modeling their physiques, or blowing bubble gum to Don Ho crooning "Tiny Bubbles." It seems they've only been programmed to have two modes: passive and aggressive. And only once, at the end, does a dancer stop to think about that.

Part of the thrill of Hedwig Dance Lab is feeling these choreographers grow more confident in their own voices. At times their expression is a little blurred. But their ideas are fresh and original, and their choreography strives to be honest and true.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/T.J. Bonzon.

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