At Adler, new production company House of DOV makes a dramatic entrance onto the scene

At the foot of the Adler Planetarium this past Friday night, Drew Lewis’ production company, House of DOV, made its Chicago debut alongside New York-based companies C-LS and HOMESICK. The evening was humid and cloudless after a sporadic afternoon rainstorm, and the skyline made a striking backdrop for the minute, square stage. It was a picturesque night for a world premiere.

Opening numbers “Show & Tell” by solo artist HOMESICK (Madison Wada) and “NO FALSE IDOLS” by Lydia Shamoun, a C-LS mover and creator, blended together with ease. Wada’s solo —a vintage-inspired ditty that explored vanity through the use of a pocket mirror and obsessive cosmetic fixation—flawlessly juggled intense focus, coy performance quality and Hepburn-esque costuming. With every over-dramatized wrist roll came a sly smile at the audience that sold the bourgeoisie character they seemed to be channeling.

The C-LS trio—Allison Burke, Sierra Hendrix and Wada—kicked things into high gear with Vaudevillian energy. Cue cards reading “just a moment” floated across the stage with comedic timing while “We Like to Party” by the Vengaboys blared in the background triumphantly. Hyper specific head bops and perfectly timed winks offered further comedic relief when partnered with utterly deadpan facial expressions, and the use of identifiable repetition made me feel like I was part of an inside joke. Their laughter-inducing performance endeared me to the sets of artists, and as the tee up to the night’s raison d’etre, both companies delivered work that felt very of the now due to the use of Tik Tok-popularized music and femme-inspired costuming.

Lewis’ premiere, “Delirium (honesty),” broke from the lightheartedness with a cutting tension. From the first beat I felt lost, frantically trying to connect the dots of what I was seeing with what I was feeling and hearing. Remixed versions of Charli XCX and Britney Spears tracks blasted from a DJ booth as Lewis mixed the sound in real time, all of it harshly juxtaposed by the melancholy moves coming from the trio of House of DOV dancers. The use of clawed hands, back-breaking floorwork and compulsive twitches screamed of demonic possession, but “It’s Britney Bitch” playing on repeat pulled my focus away from the somber performance quality. It felt like watching an identity crisis unfold—relatable, yet discomforting.

Entering into Lewis’ mind wasn’t easy, yet “Delirium (honesty)” came across as clean and intentional. Dancers Maddy Joss, Ingrid Ferdinand and Ali Webb clearly sensed one another: every arm broken at the same angle and every forced arch step taken in perfect unison. Ultimately, it was the artists who helped lull me into the mad world they were creating. I was grateful for the room to exhale some of the pent up tension bubbling up out of confusion.

For the entirety of the thirty minute work, the performers executed a wide range of stylistic phrases—a pirouette tacked onto aggressive jacking, melded ballet with house, and high contractions with cupped hands tied historical modern into the mix. Their point/counterpoint spatial patterns created a comforting balance. Specifically, Joss’ driving solo was scaled out by Ferdinand and Webb’s slow moving fixation with one another, their bodies pressed close together with deep curiosity, lost in an exploration of their own.

The work ended with a softness— the polar opposite of the start, which was filled with cardio sets of crunches and jumping jacks. The continuous use of pacing as an expression of both anxiety and power read as an embodiment of solitude and longing, be that for peace of mind or contact with other people. The work was an ode to madness and the discomfort I felt began to make sense only as the dancers fell slowly to the floor in their final moments.

Dance is a small world. Lewis and I went to the same high school and dance studio. Our circles expanded with shared acquaintances when we both left our hometown for college. House of DOV is filled with dancers I personally trained with growing up; even the stage manager is a friend of mine.

So, “Delirium (honesty)” felt aesthetically familiar to me. The use of a live DJ, mixing while the dancers performed, evoked memories of stories told by friends who worked with choreographers like Sharon Eyal and Jennifer Weber. The steampunk-inspired costuming traded metal accents for mesh inserts that transported me back to the days of wearing dance dresses during recital season. And the choreography, tortured and dark, reminded me vaguely of Mary Wigman’s haunting expressionist dance “Hexentanz.” I’d like to see this work again knowing what I know and feel now.