In Off-Center, the stuff of dancers' dreams—or nightmares | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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In Off-Center, the stuff of dancers' dreams—or nightmares

Using vogue and contemporary ballet, Paige Cunningham Caldarella's new dance examines insecurities.


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Contemporary ballet and voguing are onstage strangers, though they're neither necessarily harmonious with nor antithetical to one another. Paige Cunningham Caldarella joins the two styles in her bold new project Off-Center, a dreamy nugget of choreographer's choreography that looks at the anxiety-driven attitudes imparted by hypercompetitive professional dance training.

To get there, Caldarella told her four dancers to explore moves they'd always wanted to perform but that had been drilled out of them as being too flashy. The three men indulged in voguing, backflips, diva splits, peacocklike arm flapping, and thrashing leg exercises, set to tinkly electronic music. The ballerina opted for her own version of exaggeration: too-deep pliés, blocking other dancers with abrupt attitude. Caldarella also directed the dancers to be unapologetic in their execution, which proved revealing in its own way; in spite of themselves, they were routinely overtaken by vulnerability that surfaced in shamefaced gestures, long hesitations, or reversion to respectable classical poses. This back-and-forth between vanity, pride, and internal condemnation speaks nicely to the psychology of the "center" in ballet, where modesty and moderation are supreme values, bravura reserved for a lucky few. The "off-center" option offered by voguing and similarly glamorous movement is actually an alternative center, a chance to retreat to the far edges of a stage, to claim a periphery where space is more plentiful, and to satisfy a desire to be seen as truly fabulous, which these dancers surely are.

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