Rachel Damon plows the prairie in her delicately rendered, often dark new 30-minute sextet, Swath. In the so-called "bread suit" section, dancers attempt to paste hunks of bread onto a woman, for reasons that are unclear. "Is she feeding them?" asks Damon, the head of Chicago-based Synapse Arts. "Or trying to get away?" In another section, a man dresses a dead animal, hacking at it and yanking off its hide. To survive, frontier folk do what they have to. Julia Miller's projected silhouettes—of grass, stalks of wheat, a narrow window, scissors—set the scene for Damon's apparitions, while sound designer Russell Weiss brings in the distant noises of chimes, guitars, wind through fields. Despite these trappings, Swath is far from cozy or nostalgic.
Appropriately, Damon's piece is one half of the first show in Links Hall's new Midwest Nexus Program, which enables midwestern artists to tour to other heartland cities. Synapse shares the program with Minneapolis choreographer Penelope Freeh, who presents her 2012 Slippery Fish. A collaboration with composer Jocelyn Hagen—whose score Freeh describes in a podcast as "luscious, with an underbelly of darkness"—the piece is performed by a violist, soprano, and two dancers in sleek 1920s-style bathing costumes. Described as "small, but rich" by Dance magazine, Slippery Fish offers an introduction to artists previously unknown to Chicagoans.