A gentle touch in Dancemakers Forum broadcast of ‘Delicate Hold’

“Delicate Hold” is an apt title for Jane Jerardi’s dance video project in fulfillment of her 2019-20 Lab Artist grant from Chicago Dancemakers’ Forum.

Jerardi describes her process as “observing the ordinary and even awkward” in life, and from it, sorting out “the unexpectedly beautiful.” Calling her video installation “a meditation,” she seeks to look at ways in which women “articulate our desires,” filtered through the lenses of Buddhist and feminist writings and dance improvisation. Heady stuff. And a tall order to represent visually.

Using a combination of video techniques, various props, dance, movement, painting and both written and spoken text, “Delicate Hold” successfully creates a meditative mood of self-reflection—sometimes trance-inducing. Despite a few lines of cryptic text like “I could be sensual…” and an interesting composite of a painting of a nude woman’s torso superimposed over a dancing figure in a public park, the movement vocabulary of “Delicate Hold” tends toward the general, pleasant but not specifically evocative of desire.

The forty-minute piece presents a montage of discrete solo segments, each presenting an exploration of an aspect of the self in a different environment. The dancing is mostly slow, sustained and hypnotic, unencumbered by complex choreographic invention.

An engaging opening looks up at an outdoor balcony where multiple images of the same woman twist, scoop and arch upon each other accompanied by single words—careful, action, frozen and simmering—ghost-like shadows of detached legs and torsos congealing in the solid single body anchored in gravity. The strength of abstraction in Jerardi’s work returns later in the piece with a cubist screen of fractured mirrors and a woman seemingly suspended from the ceiling. 

In recurring segments, a giant wad of crinkled white paper makes repeated appearances, revealing a hidden hand, eye or foot from within. I wanted to see more of the dancer grappling with this terrific prop—is it her brain? a secret “cave of the heart?”—to discover what obstacle or refuge the prop might provide.

The visual and emotional impact of “Delicate Hold” excels in these segments, while fascination with minutia, such as the folding and unfolding of a hand, sometimes wears thin.

A repeated segment in an empty white room has a dancer polarized between diagonal trajectories, being drawn back to a far corner and repeatedly seeking purchase in its opposite down-camera corner. Less successful than the abstract video imagery of other segments, this movement-dominant interlude seems to rely more on the concept it is intended to convey than on the actual substance of the movement itself to deliver that concept in time and space. The simplicity of walking, running and breathing in response to or defiance of gravity can be thrilling. Here, it is merely repetitive.

Two problems with many multi-disciplinary pieces are a lack of deeper development and integration of the component disciplines and a tendency to rely on intellectual concept as a substitute for structural substance in its execution. “Delicate Hold" suffers a bit from both.

To its credit, “Delicate Hold” is always highly tactile, keen to the slightest sound of breath, the crinkle of folding paper, the turning of a page in a notebook, the scratch of a pencil on paper. “Delicate Hold” conveys gentleness in the extreme. The soft caress that Jerardi’s work imparts is perhaps her way not only of treating herself gently but of giving her audience permission to do the same.