American Me has an identity crisis | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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American Me has an identity crisis

The latest from Striding Lion has too many themes to jell.


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In American Me, Striding Lion artistic director Annie Arnoult Beserra presents modern dance blended with ideas about cooperation, consumerism, conformity, aggression, gratification, and the pursuit of greatness—all meant to shed light on American identity.

Drawing on so many topical concerns is a tactic that could serve the company well if the dancing were likewise rich, but here, with materials culled mainly from New York Times op-ed pieces and pop psychology, the mix fails to jell. This dance is a milk shake that separates into its initial components once the dancers stop whirring.

As the show begins, the performers bounce in seats at tables shared with audience members and positioned around a vintage jukebox. The tables are decked for a Fourth of July barbecue; the dancers wear red, white, and denim—nothing if not the most American shade of blue. Further ties to American traditions and institutions are more tenuous; marriage, for example, is explicitly identified with everything from a conspiracy against masculinity to violence between spouses to being forced to eat too many marshmallows in one sitting. Still, the theme of "helpful partnering in goal-directed efforts"—identified with "European paternalism" and contrasted with "American self-sufficiency"—is the basis for an illuminating section where dancers smartly narrate how their bodies are being supported by their partners, and their remarkably economical phrases are exquisitely timed to their movements.

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