New Works at Dovetail Aim to Get Off the ‘Waitlist’

Each year, as a new class of choreographers graduates from the Dance Center of Columbia College, a group of talented dance makers enters the queue. Chicago’s dance field is flooded with more talent year after year, for which there are not enough opportunities to go around. Often, a solution for young dancers and choreographers is to team up and self-produce, as Chloe Grace Michels, Lydia Feuerhelm and Andy Slavin did Nov. 16-17 at Dovetail Studios. Despite the inherent risks, the rewards of putting work “out there” are many. Ultimately, it is better to be working than not – better to be creating than waiting for opportunities to come. 

I don’t know if that’s why Michels, Feuerhelm and Slavin called their triple bill “Waitlisted,” but the term connotes the anticipation of not knowing, feeling the hope of having a chance at something, or sensing the reality that it could go either way. So it could be a broad statement about their journeys as choreographers, although the evening’s three works, one from each of the producers, also seemed to capture a bit of this frenetic energy on a cold Saturday near the end of the fall dance season. 

Opening the evening was Michels performing her solo, “Big Girl Panties,” a dance that begins with her standing stoically, feet apart, eyes glaring at an audience situated on opposing sides of the rectangular black box theater. She wears gym shoes and knee pads, using both to protect her body from passages of running and sliding to the floor, over and over. Slavin, who is seated at the sound board, offers her a piece of gum, and Michels slows to a more pensive state, as though she’s juggling a ball of electricity that travels in and outside her body. I kept thinking about what might have been happening to the gum – bouncing around in Michels’ mouth, becoming pliable and ooey gooey as she mashed it between her teeth. Her body makes a similar transformation, starting with a rough, hard exterior, and letting that guard down to show her true essence as she passes that energy ball around in her body, and gently shifts her weight side to side. 

Feuerhelm’s “Made of Static,” a quartet set to an original sound score by Timothy Buckley, explores something similar to this, with the line of energy rebounding amongst the four women onstage (Noelle Awadallah, Emily Loar, Katherine Stewart and Molly Strom). If meant to imply a cotton dress sticking to your tights in winter, the message is clear. The dancers ping-pong between partners, lilting into each other and then gently tossing one dancer to the next. 

Each choreographer has carefully considered their venue, with no true front and a keen awareness of the closeness of the audience, which was packed in like sardines that night. The two group works, “Made of Static” and Slavin’s “Breaking Time,” an excerpt of an evening-length work scheduled to premiere in 2019, force an intentional viewing experience akin to a tennis match – you either have to pick your battles and choose a side to look at, or take in glimpses from either side and bounce your gaze back-and-forth. 

In “Breaking Time,” athletic competition is front and center, as six dancers donning gym shorts and jerseys pass flour bags back and forth like basketballs, puffs of flour popping from each bag with every catch. The work borrows images from other sports, too, as when dancer Lauren Kunath floats on top of the others, mosh pit style, as they huddle together in what looks like a rugby scrum. Kunath reminded me of a football quarterback, the player who gets much of the glory, but can’t do the job without relying on teammates. As in: “there is no I in team…”