In 1972, dancer and choreographer Harvard Vallance hitchhiked to Chicago to work on George McGovern’s campaign. He wasn’t dancing then; he was working as an orderly at Weiss hospital, and was turned off by the idea of being sick through the summer. “So I quit!” said Vallance in a post-rehearsal interview with See Chicago Dance. He began taking dance classes with Shirley Mordine, Nana Shineflug and Joel Hall, among others, and met Lin Shook shortly after. The two have been collaborating every once in awhile ever since, and the free-spirited nature of these two friends combined with Shook’s fascination of the natural world are on full display this weekend at Links Hall for Perceptual Motion, Inc. (PMI)’s annual concert, “Into the Forest.”
When she formed Perceptual Motion 35 years ago, Shook didn’t initially set out to create a multi-generational dance company, but an experience teaching older adults in the ‘90s encouraged her to include elders in her work. Now age 69, Shook continues to work with dancers ranging in age from 23-84 and is aware of her changing place within her company’s age spectrum. “What’s interesting now,” she said, “is that I’m so much older than my dancers. It used to be like we were colleagues, it was all my friends. As I got older, most of my friends stopped dancing or went on to different things… now I feel like I’m almost a mother to some of them.”
This season, Shook’s playful approach to dance and unwavering rigor toward the choreographic process make for a blithe and accessible evening of dance at Links Hall. She’s choreographed two new works and restored her 2016 “Time is a River,” which positions its four women, representing four generations, on a diagonal line set to music by Chicago-based composer and percussionist Fred Simon. This and others, like premieres “Within the Silence” and a duet performed and created with Vallance, are inspired by Shook’s deep connection to nature, culled from experiences wandering through Cook County Forest Preserve and on the grounds surrounding Fermilab in Batavia.
The anomalies to “Into the Forest’s” nature theme are two: Shook’s “Clock In/Clock Out” is a frenetic solo for dancer Mary Iris Loncto that uses gestures of morning rituals and workplace behaviors (brushing teeth, eating, typing, etc.) to show the relative cacophony of life’s routines. In “Inside/Out,” guest choreographer Peggy Lamb, of Austin, employs a series of therapeutic dance exercises used with women incarcerated as sex offenders with the PMI women as a choreographic device to create a tender and emotional quartet.
So, some dances, like “Time is a River,” refer more directly to PMI’s mission of using multi-generational dancers, while others speak to broader topics, and just happen to include cast members from a wide age spectrum. For Shook, the wider slice of life she presents creates more avenues to engage with her audiences. “I love looking at gorgeous young bodies when they dance,” she said, “but our world is not just gorgeous young bodies, and if you’re trying to reach people with your art, then you need to expand that look a little more to make the art inclusive.”
Perceptual Motion, Inc. presents “Into the Forest” at 7:00 p.m. March 9-11 at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $18-20, with discounts available through SeeChicagoDance.com.
Lauren Warnecke is the dance writer and critic for the Chicago Tribune.