Harmony music and dance festival tells stories of triumph, but could play more notes

Premiering last night at Fasseas White Box Theatre in Lincoln Park, "Harmony: A live music and dance festival" produced by Tiffany Lawson Dance showcases works by choreographers, dancers, and musicians from around the Chicagoland area as well as Oregon, California, Wisconsin and Ohio, creating a platform for dancers and musicians to collaborate, experiment and improvise in three nights of live performances. Each night of the festival features a different program with different choreographers and musicians. The first night featured works by Postcompany, Desueno Dance, Theory of Dance, Footprints Tap Ensemble, Bonnie Christine Willis, Stephanie Unger, Elise Ellen Ericksen, Shayna Bjerke and Tiffany Lawson.

The intimacy of the White Box increases my awareness of my neighbor sitting next to me, as well as the sensitivity I have to the music and the movement. The blaring of the trombone and the sweetness of the viola resonate with my body. Strings, piano and acoustic guitar fill the room, and create a lovely environment for the dancers to tell stories of triumph, loneliness, fear and resilience. Dancers in Stephanie Unger’s trio “Ladylike” recite a few “lady dos and don’ts”—"A lady does not smoke without an ashtray,” “A lady does not adjust her skirt in public,” “A lady does not pick her nose”— and hold poses and gestures that suggest elegance as well as sass: they bourree across the floor, smiling profusely, and then hold up the middle finger and lazily lounge on the floor. It is a funny commentary on gender politics, and the music amplifies the gestures' comedic effect.

“Accompanied”—choreographed by Megan Beseth and violist Mike Ford, and performed by Ford and Amy Brophy, who also created the musical arrangement for the piece—features Brophy’s lovely vocals accompanied by the lush sounds of Ford’s viola. The dancers turn and lunge close to each other, only to fall back away from the other. They spiral off to a corner of the stage, turn under themselves, and return to each other, as if in a kind of tango. Brophy extends her arm to reach for Ford, and sings of her attempt to capture his attention away from the music. Ford remains lost in his viola, but still connected and in rhythm with Brophy, never missing a step. At the end, Brophy finally takes the bow from Ford. Ford feels the loss, but still does not make eye contact with his companion. Instead, he sits down to quietly pluck a note on the viola as Brophy looks out into the audience in disappointment. Ford and Brophy’s storytelling is playful and genuine, and compliments the festival’s running thread of play between sound and body.

There are moments during opening night where the relationship between the music and dancers could have been clearer. In Tiffany Lawson’s “A Solo for Bridget” danced by Bridget Grissom, a trombone and viola player stand stage left and provide a lovely, melodic background for Grissom to frolic through flowers she has strewn on the stage. Grissom does a series of turns and leaps, displaying innocence and tenderness as she relishes in her field of flowers. Although lovely, the movement seemed, at times, internal, versus the external energy coming from the trombone and viola. I wondered about the connection between the musicians and the dancer: if it was intentional for Grissom’s glorious moment to not be shared, and what would happen if the dynamics of the music were intentionally matched in the dancer’s body.

The music in a few of the works often carried similar somber and reflective Western, classical melodies. Given that a running theme throughout the night spoke to personal and societal struggles, I wondered about what could happen if the range of musical scores were expanded to support the variety of emotions within the works. In “Flypaper”—a ballet choreographed by Shayna Bjerke and performed by Bridget Grissom, Maren McChesney and Mary Waterman—three dancers in identical red leotards and black skirts, pirouette and battement on a diagonal, their bodies stiffen and occasionally shutter, as if controlled by something beyond them. Each of the dancers goes into a solo where she is able to demonstrate her individual personalities, only to go back into a rigid unison where they jete and pirouette—their bodies no longer their own. I wonder what could happen if the somber and reflective tones within each of the works were interrupted. What kind of resolution do the dancers come to in their searching, and how can the music support their evolution?

Harmony brings together a large bill of performers, choreographers and musicians from across the country in an evening that is fun and lovely, and draws us in to consider the different harmonies music, rhythm and dance create in artmaking and in life. I am curious to know how the works in the rest of the festival will push our understanding of the relationships between music and dance and continue to tell stories of personal and communal triumph.


"Harmony: A live music and dance festival" by Tiffany Lawson dance runs through Saturday at the Fasseas White Box, 1535 N. Dayton St. Tickets are $30, with Hot Deals available by clicking the link below.