I want to go live in Preston Bradley Hall. Once the reading room of the former Chicago Public Library, now the Chicago Cultural Center, it's topped by a Tiffany dome (one of the largest in the world) and decorated with sumptuous mosaics; grand arches lead to its distant reaches. Here, one imagines, people could read in a setting both majestic and familiar, filled with old thoughts and the comforting odor of old books. The books are long gone, banished in 1977 when the room was made into a reception and performance space. But now the Seldoms, a collaborative group of three, have created a site-specific piece, Nacre Voit ("Mother-of-Pearl Sees"), intended to evoke both the architecture's formal elements and the space's history as a haven for dreamers. Choreographer Carrie Hanson says she's aiming to reproduce the "curvilinear pathways" of the hall, its arches, and the organic patterns of its mosaics. Performance artist Doug Stapleton has been reading various writers--including Jorge Luis Borges, himself a librarian--to produce a text that's at once absurd ("This book is bored with me") and thoughtful ("Nothing is said without tenderness or fear"). Lara Miller's elegant costumes--purple or burnt orange and decorated with antique obis--recall the orientalism of the turn of the century, when the building was erected, while Annie Feldmeier's pastiche of music and noise gives Nacre Voit a contemporary sound. Eleven performers in all (including the third member of the Seldoms, Susan Hoffman, now five months pregnant) help fill up the space for this 30-minute piece, which has an elegiac feel: at one point the dancers hold books by their spines and riffle through the pages, recalling for me a day when yellowed love letters might have slipped out of the old tomes. Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Friday, May 14, 6 PM; Saturday, May 15, noon; and Saturday, May 22, 11 and 11:30 AM. Free.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Doug Stapleton.