Silk and Steel's Surge lowers the roof at NSCPA, raises the bar

The rafters of Belle Plaine Studios in the North Center neighborhood were dripping with colored silks and various circus implements for years as the home of Aerial Dance Chicago (ADC). Upon the closing of Belle Plaine, ADC was homeless, and after brief tenures at other high-ceilinged locales around the city, the company found a permanent home in Old Irving Park at an unobtrusive loft space above a commercial storefront. The long and narrow space has the same airy feel as Belle Plaine, with exposed beam rafters and brick, and windows looking out at the trees lining Irving Park Road. How fitting for dancers who make their living in flight. Since moving into the new space last January, ADC’s loft has been teeming with dancers every Thursday for a joint rehearsal between ADC and Elements Contemporary Ballet; the stuff of a nearly year-long collaboration came to a head last weekend at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (NSCPA).

The companies trained together for months, taking each others’ classes and blending their casts with the objective of creating a new and homogenous group capable of both ballet and aerial dance. The resulting piece Surge successfully accomplishes this; aside from a few ladies in pointe shoes we didn’t know where the ADC stopped and Elements began. The collaboration came about after meeting each other at the Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival, and both groups say it was a shared aesthetic that brought them together to pursue the MetLife New Stages grant that would help them afford such a prestigious venue. Artistic Directors Karen Fisher Doyle and Mike Gosney, in addition to ADC’s co-founder Chloe Jensen, worked together to create Surge, by far the most intriguing work on the program. The rest of the show was a regurgitation of older rep, and with such a long and involved process leading up to the one-night-only engagement at NSCPA, it would have been nice to carry the collaborative theme more thoroughly through the whole evening.

Compared to the crowded studio, Surge took on a whole new life in the theatre, and was clearly built for its big home in the suburbs. Soft goods were stripped away to reveal the booms, fly rail, and grid above stage dressed with bright red aerial silks rigged by Jensen’s husband and ADC co-founder Kip Conwell. The stark contrasts in the space, with homage to the show’s title Silk and Steel were echoed in the choreography, adorned with ferocious high kicks and Tarzan swings from silk to silk balanced by delicate and refined moments in a beautiful pas de trois with Elements' Joseph Caruana partnering Jensen in a rope and harness and another dancer en pointe.

At times it was evident that the majority of the companies’ efforts were invested in Surge; Gosney’s picks of an unearthly (but not exactly angelic) duet Angel (2008) came off better than his group piece, Curiosity (2010), but only, perhaps, because it was better rehearsed. Sloppy unisons, raised shoulders, and poor spacing distracted the audience from seeing the nuances of what is an otherwise lovely jaunt. ADC’s contributions included unEarthed (2011), an all-teal comment on global warming and humans’ relationship with the environment, and the intriguing and completely symmetrical Symbiotic (2009).

If the size and enthusiasm of the dance audience on the North Shore for ADC + Elements are any indication of things to come, this may be the start of a beautiful friendship. Both companies have pinpoint aesthetics - so much so that it can be tedious to watch either one alone for two plus hours. But together, they enjoy a symbiosis that makes for a perfectly pleasant evening

Lauren Warnecke