All rigor and no pith in two Same Planet premieres

In an evening of premieres, Same Planet Performance Project brought two new works to the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Feb 21. “Bad Bunny” by Same Planet artistic director Joanna Read and “Ammonite” by the NYC-based Ivy Baldwin used athletic, contemporary choreography to investigate terms of consent and our anthropological connection to the natural world around us, respectively. 

While I was impressed with the rigor with which the dancers approached the choreography and the wide breadth of movement presented, in all honesty, the movement in either piece didn’t speak to me. Of course, there were moments that resonated. Enid Smith lit in a pool of strong, white light (designed by Jacob Snodgrass) as her shadow stretched and curved beneath her dancing in “Ammonite.”  Patrick Burns lying limp on the floor in “Bad Bunny” as he was pulled, pushed and tossed across the space. But mostly, I found the combination of abstract choreography and ambient music in both pieces to be underwhelming. In the talkback following the performance, both Read and Baldwin shared captivating anecdotes for themes, research and creation practices that had influenced the building of the work. As someone who hasn’t researched consent or inherited evolutionary knowledge in depth, I wanted to see more of that early process in the final product—-to have more of the simple manifestations of that research to provide context for the complex abstractions seen on stage.

At one point in “Bad Bunny,” Michelle Giordanelli and Earlyn Whitehead were on all fours pouncing towards and away from each other, shaking their heads, like dogs playing. I was invested in this movement and this relationship between Giordanelli and Whitehead until all too quickly it dissolved. I wanted to see how their physicality and relationship could escalate past the initial tension into something more complex, instead the audience missed out on an opportunity for innovative partner and floor work. This moment, along with most of the others that resonated with me throughout both works, disappeared too soon without resurging later, leading me to lose the emotional connection that I was starting to have with the pieces. 

What really stuck out to me as interesting about “Bad Bunny” was the choice to explore consent without once using words. As an audience member I had to purposefully tune in to the expressions and body language of the dancers to understand their relationships onstage and to understand who was giving consent and who was not—and who maybe changed their decision mid-phrase. At one point Giordanelli was standing down stage, close to the audience, staring at us, as Smith slid behind her letting her outstretched arms overlap with Giordanelli’s. In such a soft and intimate moment, I was staring back at Giordanelli trying to decipher the tension that seemed to be emanating from her wide eyes: was this physical contact wanted? Did it feel good? How is that communicated through the body when one can’t find the words to voice the answers to those questions?

In “Ammonite,” breath provided a welcome and consistent rhythm throughout the piece, seamlessly integrating into Justin Jones’ softer, electronic soundscape. The piece opened with exaggerated breathing while the four-person cast stood clumped under a stream of stark, white light. They sounded almost scientific, as though they were hooked up to a machine in the hospital or suffocating. The breathing eventually quieted, becoming natural. Breath became the anchor that set the tone for the piece as it became more warm and human in the second half. Soft or heavy, forced or real, the quality of breath held my focus as the work fluctuated between natural, systematic and empathetic worlds.

As a company with more than 20 years of history in Chicago, Same Planet Performance Project brings a talented cast of dancers to the stage in a performance of complex and demanding movement. While “Ammonite” and “Bad Bunny” lacked a deeper relationship between choreography and the meaning they were trying to convey, these works showcased intricate, full-bodied movement for anyone wanting to see some solid contemporary dancing. 

Same Planet Performance Project has one more performance Saturday Feb 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, 1306 S Michigan Ave. Tickets are $30 and are available by clicking the event link below.