Sara Shelton Mann/Contraband | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sara Shelton Mann/Contraband

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There are intelligent choreographers, and then there are choreographers who think too much. Sara Shelton Mann is both: she has a wonderful feeling for movement, which she's clearly imparted to her daredevil dancers, but clutters up Feast of Souls--the piece being performed here--with New Age messages. The first offering of three in Columbia College's "Into the West" series, featuring groups from the Bay Area, this hour-long work is both obvious and obscure. It opens in a train station with voice-over announcements about tracks and destinations--we're going on a journey, get it?--but also includes enigmatic objects (a small boulder that takes center stage at beginning and end, a bouquet of cartoonish flowers), texts that are alternately poetic and mawkish (one prayerlike voice-over intones "Let the birds fly near so we remember to look upward"), lots of pomo music, and video projections that run the gamut from nature scenes to images of city traffic and headstones. The piece is said to depict "one person's journey lived through different bodies, memories, and experiences," and in one of the more literal movement motifs the dancer walks backward carefully, presumably simulating past-life regression. When the phrase is performed without stepping-stones, the way it is the first time, it's extremely evocative--as is much of the dancing. Mann herself performs the first solo, revealing the fishy, fluid origins of the rest of the choreography: she's gifted at producing seamless moves, often violent and acrobatic, great arcing leaps and vaults and tumbles. Feast of Souls is worth seeing for the dancing alone. Still, while I admire Mann's wish to communicate, and to communicate so much, the piece too often resembles one segment here: an elaborate playground game for which we don't know the rules. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, February 20, 8 PM. Through February 22: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $20-$24. Note: A discussion with the artists follows the Thursday performance.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andy Mogg.

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