RE|Dance Group’s latest is about love again this year

Hamlin Park Theater was beautifully dressed for RE|Dance Group’s winter offering Jan. 12-13. Choreographed by the group’s long distance co-director Michael Estanich, “A Place at the Edge of the World to Call Our Own” is the third of a trio of works all about love he’s been making since the company first formed.

“Edge of the World,” is, at first glance, hyper-focused on nature. Reflective twinkle lights cast a glow onto shrubbery dangling from the rafters, while an unseen projector brought up images of the moon and clouds on a white marley floor – uncharacteristic of the typically dark and dingy Park District fieldhouse in Roscoe Village. Many of the work’s 25 “chapters,” titled and announced aloud by Estanich, relate to a romp out-of-doors: gusting winds, climbing mountains, foraging for nuts, having a picnic. Nine dancers, each wearing easy breezy knits, present the discreet tableaux, some of which are sensitive, some cloying, some hilarious. It’s a world in which everything is beautiful, and a little bit upside down – with the moon on the floor and flowers growing out of the sky. But “Edge of the World,” for all its references to the moon and the sky and the ocean and the forest, is really about Michael Estanich. It’s a vision quest of sorts; Estanich roams through day and night to find gratitude in solitude, expressing through text and dance that, while he likes to play and dance with his friends, in being alone, he finds himself. “Edge of the World,” at its core, is about love and companionship: with others, with self, and with nature.

Among my favorite chapters are four and five. Four is a duet for Riner and Estanich, the company’s founders and the epitome of RE|Dance, that harkens back to their signature duet together called “Abbot & Viv.” It's a carefree philandering all on stage right, and an odd pairing of dancers – she is careless and he is crisp – but it always works. Chapter Five, titled “Parachuting at night,” is a hilariously staged free fall with dancers stacked two-by-two on their tummies, a blue sky projected on the white marley floor. In a wonderful unison section later in the evening (some chapter in the twenties, I think), the dancers flick toes and hands in a social dance-inspired phrase done over and over and over, to exhaustion. They then take a brief respite before an equally satisfying, equally exhausting, pass of more serious dancing.

In many ways, “Edge of the World” resembles its 2015 sister dance, “It’s About Love Again This Year.” Estanich's tenacious appetite for luscious, ballet-infused unison dancing, well-timed humor and enough context to “get it” are all in play, as trappings of most of his dances, as well as his tendency for too-long titles and too many women in a dance that’s too long. There’s a formula, but he’s not formulaic, and “Edge of the World” feels more an extension than a repetition of his previous works. But if this is the end of close to a decade of dancing about love, the question of “what now?” looms. As Estanich and Riner inevitably move closer to the end of their careers as performers ( the edge of their world...?), there is yet to emerge a clear replacement for either of them on stage. But I guess that’s a question for next year, because “it’s about love again this year.”