It’s an intimate setting, with around 25 of us collected Saturday into the black box theater at Washington Park to see professional contemporary dance in a new arts space.
With a mission to bring contemporary concert dance to Chicago’s south side, Banks Performance Project nods to traditional work through the lens of an independent dance company in A Candid Introduction. Celebrating the company’s second season, the final performance premieres tonight, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Green Line Performing Arts Center.
In a short program, Banks Performance Project presents three works, one by company member Erin Coffman and two by founder and artistic director Elysia C. Banks, including a stunning work-in-progress performed by guest artist Elander Rosser.
It’s evident from Coffman’s opening work that this is a group of strong dancers, who at once move with fierce athleticism and fluidity through high-paced movement and grand partnering. The quick pace of the choreography is a constant through all three pieces, culminating in Bank’s closing work “Keen,” in which all eight of Banks Performance Project’s company danced.
A 23-minute piece, “Keen” involves rapid and full-bodied movement that appears to never repeat, with a constant influx of new phrases and dancer interactions the entire time. The dancers move in and out of diagonals and other shifting formations; I wonder what the piece would have looked like in a slightly larger space.
The movement often flirts with contemporary ballet—a technical jump in passé here, a jump into another dancer’s arms followed by a slow and dramatic slide down his chest there. Banks incorporates her own quirks into this movement, adding shoulder rolls and pops and relying on quick, detailed gestures to juxtapose more traditional moments. Banks’ music choices highlight this blend of genres, with piano or ambient scores interspersed between pop music.
In spite of such vigorous choreography, the moments that struck me the most were the quieter ones. Karielle Williams knelt onstage, alone. Her ragged breath was audible as she brushed her hands off her thighs hard, over and over, occasionally sending her into a released circle of her upper body. Later in a trio, Williams falls behind the other dancers’ rapid movement, slowly reaching outward then covering her mouth with her hand—tension emanating out to the audience.
Beyond these riveting moments, the impressive factor of the evening is the company itself. Only in its second season, Banks Performance Project brought a blend of audience members to a unique, mission-driven performance venue to witness a group of significantly talented dancers.
Banks noted in the talkback following the show that Banks Performance Project acts as more than a vessel for presenting choreography, also allowing her to bring a concert dance company to the communities she grew up in.
Banks Performance Project may be one of many small Chicago collectives trying to succeed in a field where limited resources make it difficult to sustain a conventional dance company. But with the obvious connection between the cast and the vocal endorsements from devoted audience members, they come at it with a strong community on and off stage to support the artistry and the mission driving their work.
As Banks Performance Project continues to define its place in the Chicago dance community, I look forward to seeing how the company’s performances, workshops and other programming develop—and how their overall impact grows.
"A Candid Introduction" concludes May 5 at the Green Line Performance Arts Center, 329 E. Garfield Blvd. Tickets are $15, available by clicking the event page below.