We gathered underneath string lights that drape the ceiling like stars in the intimate Filament Theater. Fitting for an evening-length work inspired by the moon and its pull on the tides, on the mystery of night and on ourselves. As co-founder and executive director Lucy Vurusic Riner’s first choreographic work in five years, RE|Dance Group’s “What The Moon Pulls,” running Nov 21-24, celebrated the end of their 10th anniversary season by immersing the audience in an evening of swirling momentum, athletic rigor and quiet contemplation.
With a mission to explore long-distance connection and collaboration that stems from co-founder and artistic director Michael Estanich’s home base in Wisconsin, Chicago-based RE|Dance strives to infuse their work with the emotional intimacy that can often fall to the wayside in contemporary society. “What The Moon Pulls” (collaboratively choreographed with the dancers) dived into this mission to explore how we form meaningful relationships with nature, our community and ourselves in a disjointed world.
The piece was an abstract collection of movement vignettes, a series of solos, small groups and ensemble work, with spoken text sprinkled throughout. The music—a mix of soundscapes, pop songs (mixed and edited by Bruce Dickert and Melanie Neumeier) and stunning original compositions by Mark D. Burns—ebbed and flowed with the movement, echoing the sounds of ocean tides. Riner shared with the audience before the performance how her goal was to create a work that revealed powerful connection and vulnerability through movement. The meaningful presence of those two elements throughout most of the work would provide a throughline for the evening and infuse the choreography with captivating intensity.
The strongest choreography followed the force of momentum, bringing to life the chaos and power of rolling waves and highlighting the constant juxtaposition in discord and harmony of the dancers. Quick, full-bodied group movement would roll into quiet solos, the force of earlier movement containing itself in strong emotional presence and subtle gestures before moving seamlessly back to explosive launches across the stage.
A couple quirkier sections broke this momentum with dialogue and movement that felt out of place compared to the rest of the work. A fun, yet confusing surfing scene. A club-style dance party. The piece resonated strongest in the vignettes that transitioned almost effortlessly from one idea to another, the momentum of the work carrying one movement phrase into the next.
In a stunning duet, Zach Bird and Anthony Davis mimicked a boxing match where punches and hits were replaced by full-bodied collisions into spinning lifts. They continually ran towards each other, the tossing and pulling of their aerobic partnering becoming more disjointed as the two dancers missed connections with each other. Danielle Gilmore entered the space to try and pep talk the now fallen Bird, before shifting to pep talking herself. Suddenly, the audience was immersed in a new thought, a vulnerable solo. Here, Gilmore recycled the energy from the duet in quieter, yet just as strong movement, keeping fierce focus as she reached, lengthened then recoiled and spiraled inwards into herself.
Throughout the entirety of “What The Moon Pulls,” I was invested in the never-ending connection shared by the entire RE|Dance cast. They executed the choreography with an endless attention to each other, melting seamlessly in and out of individual movement to partnering to unison work and back again, this fluidity heightening the work’s relationship to water.
Repetitive, full-cast dancing to Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow” blended into Riner and Estanich alone in the space, softly singing “Moonshadow” in silence. Their tender, almost-mirrored partnering moved into a reprise from the beginning of the work which melted into Riner alone on her back, grasping in the empty air above her, mimicking her solo which started the piece. She repeated a poem that arose earlier in the work, but this time sounding fearful instead of empowered. Riner spoke of feeling isolated as a pool of light closed in around her.
Here, the abstraction of the work began to hold meaning, and I’m pulled back into an experience was starting to numb after the introduction of so many new choreographic sequences. Riner noted, “I am alone,” as the space faded to black, and I could feel the conflicting pulls towards embodiment of nature and seclusion from the world at large that she must feel when staring into a dark ocean or lake at night.
“What The Moon Pulls” performs Nov 21-24 at 8:00 p.m. at the Filament Theater, 4041 N Miluakee Ave. Tickets range $20-$40 and can be found by clicking the event link below.