Preview: Nomi Dance
By Laura Molzahn
In May 2012, five-year-old Nomi Dance (formerly NoMi LaMad Dance) lost one-half of its leadership: Madeline Renwick, who’d decided to retire from dance and move on to something new.
That left the other half of the company, co-founder Laura Kariotis, 43, to carry on. “I did some soul-searching,” says Kariotis. “And I talked to friends, who said, ‘This is an opportunity to go with one vision, your vision.’ I was ready to take some risks.” The results will be on view in a one-night-only performance Saturday, November 24, at the Athenaeum Theatre, affiliated with the Dance Chicago festival (which closes on December 1).
NoMi LaMad was never a one-choreographer, or even a two-choreographer, company. And Kariotis is bringing in reinforcements for this program, but she’s also created a piece for ten, Unsaid, on her own. Well, kind of on her own: she was hoping to work with someone open to her ideas, “where it would be a true collaboration.” And she found him.
David S. Hamilton—a composer based in LA whose recent work has been in TV and film—realized he still had a yen to create music for dance, which he’d dabbled in while attending Northwestern University as an undergrad. “He found us through Google,” says Kariotis, “and e-mailed me last March. I said, ‘Let’s talk—maybe this could happen next year.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m going to be in Chicago in June, could we start talking then?’”
“So we had a meeting, and we were the perfect fit,” says Kariotis. “Everything fell into place. Like all artists, musicians can be funny: a little rigid. But he’s not—there’s no arrogance, no ego. Once we’d agreed to work together, I’d send video of the choreography, and he’d send recordings. The biggest challenge for us, for me, was choreographing without music. We didn’t have that structure, that timing. The dancers had to find their own rhythms—then drop them once the music arrived.”
Hamilton’s gentle, atmospheric score for piano and strings is the perfect backdrop for Unsaid, a highly kinetic, mostly abstract meditation on listening, structured around a jabbing gesture of the forefinger. After her meeting with Hamilton, Kariotis says, “I went home and immediately envisioned three couples onstage. Being married, I know how you can talk and talk, and the other person isn’t listening. It’s the downfall of relationships, that lack of communication.” Once she brought in “the rest of the women” (the piece is performed by seven women and three men), Kariotis realized how much better women communicate with one another.
The other choreographers working with Nomi are Paul Christiano, Laura Wade, and Nomi dancer Sarah Robinson; Eddy Ocampo and his pickup company, Black Box Productions, are sharing the bill at Kariotis’s invitation. That inclusive mindset has always driven her. “I come from the idea that every genre can work with contemporary dance,” she says. “In the past we’ve included beautiful pointe work, and we’ve collaborated with an orchestra and a ballroom-dance team.” In fact the four women in Robinson’s new piece, The Simplicity of Old Toys, perform on pointe.
Christiano—who set a dance on NoMi LaMad (“a huge success,” Kariotis says) in its second season—has created an ambitious work for nine for this program, Done and Done, filled with his trademark acrobatic moves. “It’s a little steam-punkish, a little Tim Burton-esque,” says Kariotis. The stage design features a six-foot grandfather clock, constructed by Vin Reed, and Christiano, 36, says the dance is “about resignation, coming to terms with our inevitable decline, artistically and in other ways.”
Wade’s piece is a five-minute solo, Fazed, originally set on one of her Northwestern students; it will be danced by Christiano here. Kariotis says the piece “comes out of the idea of the male character as Adonis: controlling, in charge. The dancer is on a platform, dressed just in shorts. Then he adds dress pants, a shirt, a tie. It’s a contemporary take on what men should be.”
Nine dancers (including some well-known names, former or current performers with Giordano, River North, and Thodos) perform Ocampo’s one-act, Level. Kariotis says it’s a collaboration with lighting designer Josh Weckesser. “Josh is setting the mood, and the choreography works off that. It’s something Eddy has wanted to do for at least five or six years.” She compares it to the TV show Revolution, continually setting a group of people down in a place they’ve never been before.
Sounds a bit like Kariotis’s life. Though she’s obviously saddened by Renwick’s departure, she also seems energized by this transition. “Everything happens for a reason,” Kariotis says. “We grew the company together, now it’s ready to take a jump. I have to not be quiet. And I’m looking at things differently—looking at the big picture.”