Vision, Faith & Desire II at Pritzker Pavilion

Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold come together again to present Vision, Faith & Desire II: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham inside on the stage at the Pritzker Pavilon this weekend.

Starting tonight, Haun and Leopold revisit works from the original Vision program that had enormous success in September 2013 (preview here). This time around, they are joined by Randy Duncan, who will present his award-winning solo Love Not Me and Jeff Hancock, who will dance a solo he choreographed titled Quilting Martha.

Vision, Faith & Desire II, Thursday – Sunday, Feb. 6 – 8 at 7:00 pm. at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Tickets are $15, purchase here.

Preview: Striding Lion’s Dada Gert

Dancers Jeff Hancock and Annie Arnoult Beserra perform a "Sound Dance" inspired by Valeska Gert's variations on the Dada sound poem. Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

A duo moves across the floor improvising with a chair and a serving tray. On the opposite side of the room is a trio similarly working with a tea kettle and cup. At the end of each phrase the first group looks center and says, “Danke” while the later turns to reply “Bitte”. This is repeated until the moving tea service lands on a set table, while a female singer begins to hum and play the accordion. Add in circus-esque black and white striped walls where vintage film clips play, poetry and a disjointed soundtrack that includes the dancers’ own soundscapes and Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (or Mack the Knife) and you have entered the surreal world of Expressionist/Dadaist art in pre-World War II Berlin. In particular, you’ve entered the world and work of dancer/film and cabaret artist/model and self-proclaimed artistic genius Valeska Gert, who is the inspiration for the upcoming performance of Striding Lion Performance Group‘s Dada Gert.

The group’s artistic director Annie Arnoult Beserra learned of Gert’s work (*short video below) while in grad school and has been intrigued ever since. “What drew me to her was her absolutely seamless integration of dance and theater,” Berserra said, “and she has a voracious, raw, aggressive energy.” Gert definitely pushed the boundaries of what was happening in her day by utilizing pieces of the Dada movement (although according to Beserra, she did not consider herself a Dadaist) and the influence of Bertolt Brecht to create her own unique artistic voice in the Weimar Era. Gert is perhaps an obscure choice to create an hour-length work about, but in this case – and with this cast that is fully committed – it works. The six dancers and one singer literally throw themselves into this crazy world of twitches, snorts, funny faces and lyric. Jeff Hancock (who also did the installation and costume design) leads the others in a puppet-like defense of Dada, while Beserra becomes Gert by perfecting and replicating the unusual faces and energy that made her famous in her day. One particularly impressive section has Beserra pulling these “faces” simulating normal/”Valeska”, “horrified”, “tough guy”, “bright idea” and “fat face” over and over with increasing speed while the singer and accordion play on.

I stopped by rehearsal yesterday, so I haven’t seen it run in the theater with production values, but from what I saw, this will be a uniquely entertaining, multi-media piece of historical dance theater.

Striding Lion Performance Group presents Dada Gert at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater, 3035 N. Hoyne, Thursday-Friday, May 23-24 and Thursday-Friday, May 30-31 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20 ($10 students and seniors) – half price rush tickets will also be available. Call 773.769.7540 or visit brownpapertickets.com/event/345021.

Preview: Lucky Plush’s The Better Half

The cast of "The Better Half". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Tonight at the MCA Stage, Lucky Plush Productions (LPP) opens a two weekend run of its new production The Better Half.  A 75-minute collaboration between LLP Artistic Director Julia Rhoads and physical theater troupe 500 Clown Co-Founder Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, this new work puts a modern, interactive twist on the psychological thriller Gaslight (1944 movie based on the Patrick Hamilton play Angel Street) where a husband tries to make his wife believe she’s losing her mind.  The Better Half incorporates characters, text, lighting (Heather Gilbert) and sound (Mikhail Fiksel) cues and a heave dose of reality to keep the story evolving in real time on stage.  Add in costumes by Jeff Hancock and you have the setting for a fun, creative collaboration living inside a live, artistic whodunit?

I spoke with Rhoads earlier this week about her process and the new work.

I’m embarrassed to say, I think the last thing I saw Lucky Plush perform was Lulu Sleeps (2005). (*Side note:  After viewing the repertoire on LPP’s website, I’m happy to say I have seen most of the recent work, although I did miss last year’s hit Punk Yankees.)    Back then, you were incorporating theatrical elements, but recently you seem to be adding even more theatrics and humor.  Is that a different direction you’ve taken over the years, or is it just because I’ve missed some of your work?

I think it’s both.  One of our first works has been our longest standing work which we’ve done over and over is Endplay (2003).  That work has a (Samuel) Beckett play inside of it and is very much about human relationships and about the performers on stage and how they’re interacting and negotiating with each other.  I think that piece had a real liveliness to it that I’m interested in now in my work.  One thing that was a big game-changer for me was Cinderbox 18 (2007).  It just was kind of a magical process.  That was a process in which I started to think more about the liveness, the immediacy of being in performance and having the performers be in a state of response to each other, so it’s less like every move and detail is set and choreographed…there was a real openness.  I did this thing back then where I’d write a little note down for each of them some unknown element that they had to accomplish during the run.  Some of them ended up being in the show in a fantastic way and some of them miserably failed, but the best thing is it wasn’t really meant to find new things to add to the show, it was just a bonus if something really landed.  What it did was put the performers in a constant state of presence because they had no idea what the changes were going to be and what someone might do to change the game.  Even though the sections and the structure and the movement was set, there were things that would happen that they would have to deal with and respond in a very real-time way.  It was just such an exciting process for me.  Since 2007, and really going back to Endplay, I really want the audience to feel like they are knowing the performer, that it was really about the people and not just the dancers being sort of a non-subjective entity. 

This process in The Better Half is even going more in that direction.  Accessibility is really important.  I think it’s sometimes perceived as a dirty word.  I think accessibility is great.  You can be incredibly intelligent and accessible.  It doesn’t mean you’re diluting the content, it just means you’re allowing the audience to enter into it and to maybe laugh or maybe feel like they’re included.  This process has moved more into the dialogue…it’s more narrative.  The dialogue is in service to character development. Narrative, at the same time, we’re doing something very familiar to LPP’s body of work.  We’re also the performers that arrive at the MCA when we start.  We all show up and we get a name of a character.  We get character descriptions.  We hear this vague synopsis of a play.  My character, Mrs. Manningham hears that another person is called Mr. Manningham, so really all we know is presumably, we’re married, so we start to negotiate having a relationship in real time.  Things start to happen.  There’s kind of a loop structure, like reset button, but each time, the consequences change…grows more into the Gaslight story.  The way we hope the work is going to land is kind of fun look at contemporary domestic relationships.  It’s about the five of us being in the space together and negotiating roles that we’ve taken on or that have been imposed on us…how we grow into them.  The loop structure is about routinization that happens in relationships, sometimes how we bring our habits and our role to a relationship and then it’s like that forever.  You can recast yourself in a relationship, but it’s going to take a lot of work.  The piece wants to speak to all of those things, how you want to jump script sometimes and how you find the resilience within a marriage or a domestic relationship.  It’s fun and it’s funny and it has all of those elements, but it also lands with a real resonance about the question of can two people spend their lives together?

When the characters are getting the descriptions, is someone on stage telling them? How is that interacting happening?

In the beginning we’re sort of being directed by light.  Light plays a really important role, light and sound, and we’re directed to a place on stage and one of the characters is directed to a place in the audience where there’s a podium with a binder that has the Gaslight synopsis.  He’s privy to information that he’s one of us too.  It says there’s another character and he gives himself the role of detective.  He comes into the story and is in it for the remaining…being with us on stage as new narratives are proposed.  There are about five or six scripts that we’re sort of navigating through.  There are real time consequences for introducing those scripts and being inside of them and how it ultimately lands back in this central marriage.

How did the collaboration with Leslie come about?  Have you worked together before?

We’ve known each other for a while.  The thing that really drew us to each other is that she’s also interested in the immediacy of presence with the audience and having a real time experience.  She’s also interested in humor.  We’re a really good fit for each other.  She came in during Cinderbox 18.  I asked her to come in to give feedback to the process.  I liked her language and I was really excited by her point of view.  She had seen my work and I think she felt the same way.  She’s really drawn to physicality.  Her work is physical theater and she’s really drawn to dance and physical vocabulary as a way to move a story forward.  We started talking about doing something together a couple of years ago. We’re both really excited about this work.

Lucky Plush Productions’ The Better Half, Oct 27-29 & Nov 3, 5, 6

MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago, 312.397.4010

A NU Group

There’s a new dance group in town.  Made up of a group of Northwestern University alumni, the NU Group will be showcasing new and reworked pieces for two consecutive weekends starting this Friday.  This is the first performance for the group made up of dancers, choreographers, lighting designers, tech crew and marketing gurus…all with Wildcat cred.  The idea born from Jeff Hancock (River North, Same Planet Different World and NU dance professor) highlights the ever-growing presence of NU grads in the dance scene. “I was putting it all together in my head one day,” says Hancock.  “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a post-college concert where it was curated pieces by everybody…created by them, designed by them and presented as the fruits of the program.”

Reaching out via the college’s network, he asked for choreographic contributions, held an audition and selected the artists represented in the show.  Aside from two dancers that are seniors in the dance program at NY, and Hancock himself, everyone is an alum.  With so many creative forces collaborating, it could’ve been a nightmare, but Hancock set a structure and everything fell into place.  “I wanted to keep it to recreating excerpts or refashioning pieces that already exist, because I knew we’d have a very low budget and not a lot of time,” he says.  “I was trying to set up a model that would be beneficial to everybody.  We divided time up into little islands where each choreographer was the director of that part of the show, so I’m really curating.”  Choreographers include Julia Rhoades (Artistic Director) and Meghann Wilkinson (dancer) of Lucky Plush, Peter Carpenter, Adam Gauzza of Same Planet Different World, Annie Beserra of Striding Lion, Michala Stock of New York’s Eyes of A Blue Dog and Hancock.  Incorporating text, singing, rhythm work, humor and ingenious theatrical and choreographic devices, this one-of-a-kind showcase will make you stop, think, laugh and enjoy.

The Building Stage, 1044 W Kinzie

April 22 & 23 at 8 pm

Marjorie Ward Marshall Ballroom Theater, 10 Arts Circle, Evanston

April 29 & 30 at 8 pm

Tickets:  brownpapertickets.com