Today I sat in on a rehearsal with River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) to watch them prep for the Chicago Dancing Festival next week. RNDC will be performing Charles Moulton‘s Nine Person Precision Ball Passing for the Moderns program at the Harris Theater on Aug 23rd and the Celebration of Dance performance at Pritzker Pavilion on Aug 27th. Moulton has been working with the dancers since Monday to set his 1980 postmodern piece for nine dancers (the original was for just three dancers and premiered in 1979). One would think the title says it all, but there is more going here on than just precise handling of spheres.
When you think of postmodern dance, RNDC is not the first company that comes to mind. Known more for their fast, athletic, emotive style, this “departure” is an interesting switch in process and a welcome challenge. The dancers are on risers with three on each level – the bottom sitting, while the top two stand. They do not deviate from these spots for the entire seven-minute piece. What does happen is an ingenious exercise in brain power, counting, intricate patterns and hand-eye coordination. Oh yeah, and there are balls passed. Fast, slow, up, down, over, under, and in patterns with names like “waterfall” and “jaws”. It is like a crazy puzzle come to life.
Understandably, the dancers are still trying to get the movement patterns into their bodies, while staying relaxed and focused. “Keep the playfulness from the beginning,” Moulton instructs. “The playfulness allows us to see the humanness.” That humanness is the essential ingredient in the work. What does one do when faced with an impossible task? It is the reaction to that challenge that is the core of it. “Mistakes are part of it, but it’s how you react,” he says. “It speaks to the absurdity of systems and the human tendency to obsess, to perfect.”
I was thrown off when Mariah Carey’s cover of I Still Believe came on for the first run. What? This was just for a slower tempo to get the flow going at a friendlier pace. Eventually, they upped the speed a bit to Barry White’s Never Gonna Give You Up with mixed (and sometimes funny) results. The actual score by A. Leroy is faster and follows the choreography exactly. “Speed is in your mind,” Moulton says. “If you can do it slow, you can do it fast.” This social experiment using movement (“We haven’t defined it yet. Is it a dance, a game, a metaphor?”) has been reproduced over the years with ballet companies, children and non dancers. I find it interesting to see how it evolves when performed by talented, technically trained dancers that weren’t even born when this project started.