Esther Pauline Farley Premieres "Bodies of Water" at Greenhouse Theatre Center

  • Bodies of Water

    Original Artwork by Ava Farley, Logo Design by Scott Burns
    Original Artwork by Ava Farley, Logo Design by Scott Burns


Emerging choreographer Esther Pauline Farley presents "Bodies of Water", seventeen pieces that introduce different characters brought to life by a collective of artists from the Chicago area that premiered on October 20 - 21 at the Greenhouse Theater Center.

Before the dancing begins, the allegory of water is already on the nose: soap bubbles adorn the curtain and cottony clouds hang from above, all lit in hues of blue. Ocean waves play in place of music, and a projection mimics the ebb and flow of a water’s edge.

“Middleground” and “SHE” suggest youthful uncertainty. “Middleground” introduces Tatum Lang in fluffy green, flowing across the stage without settling in place. The backdrop is illuminated to accentuate a mesh of thin metal and a smattering of muddy leaves. Together with the sounds of trickling water, the overall effect is something like a storm drain.

In “SHE,” dancers Michelle Skiba and Haley Tarling put on and remove plain black skirts. They seem to watch each other for cues: one holds a skirt out to the other, who slowly– perhaps unhappily– puts it on. The dancers begin the piece in different places, literally wearing different costumes, but by the end they have reached something like a resolution. As one, they both remove their skirts and kneel and fold them with an attitude of reverence, ending in the fetal position atop their respective skirts.

The next piece, “Quando me’n vo” again evokes soap bubbles. Wrapped in multicolored pastels, Sydney Jones begins on the floor, extending one leg skyward. As a soap bubble might shimmer, the leg begins to quake and crescendos into a burst of movement as she at last floats to her feet. As the piece closes, she, too, removes her sweater. This time, she cradles the bundle as she looks defiantly, protectively, out to the audience. 

The more-somber “August,” danced with palpable anguish by Bruno Salgado, flows into the paradoxically upbeat “Stormy Weather,” performed by a very jazzy Catie Armbrecht. A cloud presiding over the set begins to twinkle (and continues flickering throughout the second act).

“Grilled Peaches” is danced by Ava Farley, Sydney Jones, and Michelle Skiba. On thick socks of beige and pink, the trio silently circles around itself. As a saxophone begins to sound, they find a line at the front. They stare boldly ahead, chests rising slowly. As the chests fall, so do hands, flicking delicately to stop on an invisible ledge.

In “not beethoven,” Kaitlyn Gardner’s twisted, almost-extended lines are the wind-up to the Act 1 finale and emotional release of “Blue Neighborhood (excerpt).” Lena Janes’s appearance in gauzy blue contrasts with their aggrieved demeanor as they perform a spoken word poem about hurting, and being hurt by, close relationships.

Bodies of Water

Act 2 begins with “more or less,” in which Catie Armbrecht, Tatum Lang, Amanda McLoughlin, and Bruno Salgado appear to cycle between wakefulness and sleep. Their quartet ends with a slow curtsey, a predictable movement that feels like the natural last word of a rhyming phrase.

“Seething” presents another twisted reprise of the gauzy blue dress from Act 1, this time on a misty red stage. Bennett Cullen relishes the grotesque movements of this solo, his commitment to which is satisfying to watch. The piece evolves into a gray duet, “it folds,” in which Ava Farley and Kaitlyn Gardner move to a spoken word soundtrack suggesting the body as a burden.

Farley moves with a self-assuredness that earns her the loudest applause of the evening for her second act solo, “Montmartre.” Within a show of fizzy, effervescent movement, Farley’s measured, unhurried plié stands out. While most of the performers wear watery blues and greens, Farley consistently appears in warm tones, and her dancing has a personable warmth as well.

In “Back Into Me,” each performer appears to reprise their characters from the evening. As the piece progresses, the characters interact with each other, ending shoulder to shoulder. If the evening has been an exploration of the selves, both past and present, this finale represents a reintegration of those selves. As with the broader show, “Back Into Me” relies more on emotional, rather than visual impact, and the emotional theme is all about honoring one individual’s fluid identity.

Just as water takes many forms, from frothy bubbles to storm clouds, it also has the ability to flow back into itself: each of its varied forms is nevertheless part of one complex whole. Esther Pauline Farley’s “Bodies of Water” flows through phases of self-discovery, united in the sounds and movements they share with water.