Honesty the unifier in SPDW and Carpenter's mixed bill at the Dance Center

The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago continued its 40th anniversary season last weekend with a paired program of Same Planet Different World & Peter Carpenter Performance Project, both directed by Dance Center faculty. The two groups were joined together by the MetLife New Stage for Dance initiative through Audience Architects with support by MetLife Foundation and Dance/USA. 

Same Planet Different World (SPDW) opened with a new work by director Joanna Rosenthal exploring “impulses as psychic and kinetic phenomena”. "Whiteout," as the title suggests, creates an all-white landscape complete with white marley floor, white backdrop, three white moveable walls of fabric as well as all-white costumes by Vin Reed. This color bareness lent itself perfectly for the video projections by Petra Bachmaier/LUFTWERK showing images of real whiteout conditions from driving blindly down a snow-filled highway at night to a full-on avalanche. The brilliant lighting design by Julie Ballard turns the lights on the audience, literally blinding them with shocking white.

Set to a collage of alternative electronic music that moves from ultra rock to almost violent, the soundscape becomes white noise to what’s happening on stage. Grounded floorwork turns into convulsing and contorted moves. One dancers walks on relevé as if teetering on the edge of an abyss. The five dancers – Juli Farley, Sarah Gonsiorowski, Omar Hernandez, Joe Jensen and Abby Suskin – reach out, point or manipulate each other briefly, but like being lost in a whiteout, never really connect. The jarring music abruptly stops as the filmed avalanche takes over creating a sensory whiteout adding to the feeling of being lost and alone. 

Peter Carpenter’s tenth installment of his dance cycle "Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times" puts a veteran cast (Carpenter, Margi Cole, Lisa Gonzales and Mathew McMunn) through exercises of “dominance and resistance”. Punny and poignant, this experiment fuses text, song, audience interaction and some great dancing to explore “ways that power moves”. It begins simply with a dancer stating, “This is where we started”, and continues to audibly inform the audience (some of whom are invited to sit at the edge of the stage to “witness”) in real time what they are thinking or feeling. 

A section about death residue had one dancer taping body outlines around “dead” dancers, then stating, “Peter thought it would be melodramatic, but we decided to do it anyway”. A striking motif immerged as a dancer drags another around the stage, while Cole repeatedly runs after, jumping and clinging on for a ride. The beautifully tailored costumes by Jeff Hancock riff off of modern day suits with white collars, but blur gender lines with the women in high-waisted pants and the men wearing skirts. The work ended strongly with McMunn utilizing his singing talents, while being taped to the floor. As he sits up and curls into the fetal position, the sound of the tape ripping off the floor echoed through the theater.

The program closed with a SPDW commission of the Chicago premiere of transnational choreographer Netta Yerushalmy’s "The Force Backwards." As the lights came up, two dancers stood staring at the audience from the carpeted space between the stage and the seats, telling that this would not be dance in a traditional frame. The quartet of dancers played with the space using extremes by falling in and out of the wings, scooting and bounding dramatically in light green coveralls. The costumes that were reminiscent of a painter were not flattering, but apropos since the press release notes that Yerushalmy was “emulating a stroll through an art museum”. 

The work was quirky and sometimes incoherent, but showcased the dancers pure athleticism. It was full out, full speed from start to finish with a particularly explosive solo by Philip Elson. "The Force Backwards" ends with all four dancers falling back onto the stage with a sigh of exhaustion; an honest moment in what was a somewhat disjointed work.