Hedwig Dances ‘marks’ territory at Links Hall

Nothing is certain when running a dance company, however Jan Bartoszek’s aesthetic consistency combined with loyal company members and an international foothold in Cuba have created a niche that Hedwig Dances owns alone. On the heels of a tour to Havana this March, Hedwig presents a two-weekend smorgasbord of recent works in its spring program, ‘Markings,’ at Links Hall. 

Hedwig was keen to acquire Victor Alexander’s Line of Sigh, originally presented last September through Alexander’s Lab Artist Grant from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum. As the dancers wove back and forth, under and between Alexander’s lines, dimly lit by Ken Bowen’s moonlit glow off the chestnut floors in the big space, framed by the criss-crossing of more cables strung across the raised upper stage, a realization manifested that there is nothing to miss about the old Links Hall. Talk about a glorious upgrade.

Deborah Valoma’s elaborate set of taught cables echoes the guitar strums present  in Arianna Brame’s original sound score. A series of images washes over the viewer - that of a jungle gym or a majestic game of Cats Cradle. The dancers pull and weave the strings to reveal isolated smaller “rooms” within the play space for solos and duets to occur. There is a level of intimacy amongst the performers, though it’s one that is fraught with discontentment. It’s as though they are bonded by the sheer fact of being stuck in a sort of purgatory together. The way Alexander navigates and manipulates the set with his inventive choreography is pure magic.

Artistic Director Jan Bartoszek developed the other two works on the program: one an excerpt of the 2013 ASCENdance, the other a work in progress called Drift deep, loose. Each work on the evening plays to Hedwig’s strengths, featuring intricate, athletic partnering, and saturnine moods punctuated by outbursts of emotion. After 29 years of dance making, every bit of Bartoszek’s movement presented here is beautiful to watch, as are the dancers who so expertly execute it, but the program is begging for a few moments of levity to break up all that angst. Drift deep, loose failed to differentiate itself entirely from ASCENdance, in spite of distinctive pedestrian costumes (a departure from Hedwig's MO for clean, dancey pants and tops). This is perhaps due in large part to the two pieces employing the exact same cast and atmospheric sound scores. While the elements of each piece can be easily contrasted, they are somehow part of a monochromatic world. Returning to the analogy of a Swedish buffet, we were offered herring and potatoes, while hoping for burritos and bagels. Considering that Drift deep, loose is still in progress, it will no doubt change dramatically as Bartoszek continues her choreographic partnership with Havana-based Susana Pous.

Hedwig Dances presents “Markings” through April 12 at Links Hall (3111 N. Western). All performances at 7pm; tickets are $15-20 available at the door or online at linkshall.org