HOLDING UP THE HOUSE
at the Dance Center of Columbia College
Nana Shineflug has been a pivotal force in the Chicago modern-dance community for many years--as performer, choreographer, artistic director of the Chicago Moving Company, and outstanding teacher. Many of our most accomplished dancers were her students. So it was depressing that the audience at Columbia College's Dance Center Friday night was so pitifully small. If only her former and present students had attended, the hall would have been full.
Of course, like every artist, Shineflug has had her triumphs and failures, but even her outrageously aggravating failures have been strangely interesting. She has a keen wit, a good choreographic imagination, a sophisticated intelligence, and a curiosity about the society she inhabits. Independence and integrity are the hallmarks of the artist and the woman. I have a hunch she even welcomes sharp critical comment. It's a sign the audience is awake.
"Holding up the House," the slyly titled concert that Shineflug, Jeff Abell, Shaun Gilmore, and Bryan Saner cooperatively presented last weekend, certainly didn't put anyone to sleep. The four pieces on the program might be described as holding up, if not the traditional house of modern dance, the house of what is now loosely called performance art--with a little music, a little movement, and a lot of speech. The monologues and dialogues in Nothing up Your Sleeve took on the holiest of our icons--mother-son relationships--and in The Box, our more recent holy icon, television.
Nothing up Your Sleeve, the curtain raiser, created and performed by Shineflug and Abell, is a series of fantasy recollections of various incidents and dreams by a mother and son who can only attack each other as liars. Their relationship is ambiguous to say the least; their personalities, totally unlike. They are indeed an odd family unit.
Shineflug, clad in a slinky black gown reminiscent of the costumes in Paul Taylor's Cloven Kingdom, stunningly belies her admittedly post-50 age. Abell--short and disheveled--has the look of a nebbish--a younger, whiny-voiced Woody Allen. Their acid-edged arguments, which sometimes go on a bit too long, hint provocatively at their love-hate relationship. At first they alternately strum on a piano, adapted to sound very much like the pianos "treated" by the young John Cage. At one point Shineflug wanders around with a shiny ball that seems to float in the air at her command.
At the end, both turn up at opposite ends of the performing area, each attached at the waist to a long cord. They attempt futilely to reach each other--to kill or to kiss, we'll never know, for the cords, when taut, are too short to allow them to reach each other. The two end up on the floor, scrabbling desperately to cover the few inches separating them before the cords drag them offstage. This is a funny, sometimes bitter, sometimes sad, yet surrealistically wise look at the relationship that, we are constantly told, is responsible for everything, good or bad, in our lives.
Weighing the Planets, choreographed by Gilmore and danced by Mario Rico-Fuentes and Jane Kelly to the taped, throbbing drums of Olatunji, is a striking, brief, fast-moving dance. Purely abstract, it shows off the two performers' fluid relationship with each other well.
Chasing Daphne--another cryptic title for a Gilmore piece--is fascinating in the way it contrasts two performers manipulating long poles with a dancing couple who chase around the stage. It's part of a work still in progress, the program notes informed us, but it stands quite well on its own. Of particular interest is the ingenuity with which the poles are used--to suggest the Crucifixion, lances in a joust, or yokes weighing down the two slow-moving performers. At the conclusion, the pole-bearers and dancers reverse roles.
Chasing Daphne loses its impact, however, when the two dancers run on and on. They mirror each other's steps, but their runs, their rolls on the ground, and their pauses with one leg raised are too repetitive, lacking sufficient choreographic ingenuity and variety. The slow-moving pole-bearers are more interesting. Fuentes, Kelly, John Hoffman, and Eileen Sheehan were the performers, and the taped music is by Laszlo Sary.
The Box, created by Bryan Saner, was performed by him and his brother Marlin, who composed the music he also played on a piano that was also "treated" but produced a different sound. This piece offers a nutty but serious discourse on TV--how it controls and shapes us, how TV images can replace real life, how a writer works for TV. It's engagingly narrated by Bryan, who also performs the rubber-jointed movement. Marlin contributes his voice and his musicianship at the piano. This is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek overview of the pernicious monster that decides for too many of us what is "real."