To get to “The Final $tage,” Chicago Dance Crash’s first live, local performance since the pandemic begin, I arrived at the front desk of Lakeshore Sport & Fitness, located at a bustling Fullerton Ave. spot that’s sort of Lakeview and sort of Lincoln Park. A few friendly staff members helped me sign my life away—waivers and disclaimers and uploaded IDs aplenty—and then directed me to four flights of stairs lined with breadcrumbs in the form of yellow balloons. Breathless, I passed the pool and a few weight rooms, thinking maybe I should start using both again, to arrive at the club’s wide-open rooftop deck with a full restaurant, bar and arguably one of the best North Side views in the city.
It did, indeed, feel like a bit of an indoctrination as Chicago Dance Crash’s “Final $tage” audiences—totaling fewer than 150 people over just two days of performances last weekend—are supposed to be a “live studio audience” attending the tell-all finale of a reality dance show taking place in a slightly dystopian, post-pandemic near future.
“The Final $tage” marks not just a return to live productions for these home-town hip-hop heroes but a revival of sorts. In imagining a reality TV show in which dancers are implanted with microchips run by corporate capitalist overlords, Crash resuscitates its ever-popular story format. Unlike the company’s previous cinematic summer blockbusters (like “Tron: End of Line,” “Bricklayers of Oz” or “Lil Pine Nut”), however, this hour-ish of nearly non-stop dancing harkens back to shows such as “Immediate Gratification,” leaning on a unique brand of hip-hop-infused contemporary dance developed by a company fast approaching its 20th anniversary.
A perpetual strength of Chicago Dance Crash is their ability to look cool while addressing societal hot topics under the auspices of ridiculous tricks, intricate partnering and what looks to me like spectacular break dancing. They do this not only by recruiting serious dance chops—Monternez Rezell, KC Bevis, Kelsey Reiter and Logan Howell have emerged as the ensemble’s leaders with newcomers Diamond Burdine, Imani Williams and Anna Goetz adding pepper to this well-seasoned pot. The other key to their success, not to be understated, is the consistently brilliant choreographic minds of artistic director Jessica Deahr, Jackie Nowicki, Monyett Crump, James Morrow and Walter Maybell with contributions from Bevis.
Mixmaster Johnny Nevin recorded voiceovers of each of the dancers, who thankfully act out their dialog through quirky body language rather than speaking their lines live. While each vignette moved the plot along (plot a loose term for the cast exposing “The Final $tage’s” producers for the terrible, manipulative people they are and the merry band of protagonists living happily ever after), the point of this show is to show off the dancers, who act out “flashbacks” from their time on reality TV and are backed by that aforementioned Chicago skyline changing from dusk to night throughout the performance. After catching my breath climbing all those stairs I swiftly lost it again feeling the magic of live dance unfolding before my eyes. And I mean literally feeling it: The Astroturf-coated deck spanning the entire rooftop reverberated with every jump and flip, gently bouncing the audience in time a broad playlist by Kaytranda, Shadowax, Donnie Hathaway and Busta Rhymes, plus some Western-themed movie scores tossed in to accompany Bevis and Reiter as they donned chaps and threw each other around in an exhausting High Noon-styled dual. It is a Crash show, after all.