The stage at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts is transformed into a bomb-blasted battle ground as a haphazard blockade of debris — chairs, lamps, a pink bicycle — are stacked floor to ceiling, framed by a proscenium crafted out of burlap and paper, painted to look like the charred remains of a city blasted to smithereens.
In the world of “Booms Day,” the latest release from Chicago Dance Crash, roving gangs battle each other for dominance over what little of civilization remains told through the lens of a child’s overactive imagination. Throughout the piece, multiple scenarios arise through subtle layers of storytelling as a cadre of grungy dancers perform death-defying feats that are sure to blow you away as the show’s title suggests.
While the scenery remains static, the set is continuously transformed by strategically placed, vibrantly colored lighting that cuts, bisects and washes over the stage, expertly done by lighting designer Erik S Barry. In fact, sometimes the stark white lights became so bright that I had to close my eyes; but this is intentional. The effect, used multiple times, creates the sense of a surprise scene change minus a curtain. “We’re all about to go on a strange journey together,” said Artistic Director Jessica Deahr in a pre-show introduction. “When the narrator says, ‘close your eyes,’ do it.”
The story, conceived by Executive Director Mark Hackman, follows “Girl,” played by KC Bevis, the leader of a gang of miscreants wearing tattered, loose clothing and bits of plastic armor.
In the segment titled “Pocalips” choreographed by James Gregg, the gang spends its time play-fighting, stomping around loudly, bounding across the floor like animals, throwing themselves to the ground with a large thump… that is, until one another gang member doesn’t let Girl fall, catching her centimeters from the ground. Enter Boyfriend, played by Logan Howell.
In “Girl Meets Boyfriend” choreographed by Deahr, the two perform a remarkable post-apocalyptic pas de deux that turns the traditional duet on its head. Howell has but to lift and support Bevis’ foot as she spirals around weightlessly, as if in a vacuum. Their arms and legs lock, intertwine and thread through each other at a dizzying pace. At times soft and tender, at other times they are explosive, like when Howell hurls Bevis with great force up into the air. She lands in a handstand that turns into a tucked roll —death-defying! There is a childlike playfulness to them, and they bond over an old tape-player/radio, a MacGuffin that serves as whatever metaphor is needed to move the story along throughout the show.
This is when the layers of storytelling started to unravel. The thin, juvenile voice of a young girl, played by dancer Molly Harris narrates the story prompted by and an adult, played by Christian Castro, asking her about her past. The voice, it turns out, is Bevis from the future, and what we are seeing is a memory of her past.
The quality of the voiceovers is excellent, and the sound design by Johnny Nevin of Heart & Soul Productions seamlessly incorporates the protagonist’s voice in, over and around the soundtrack of over thirty different songs. At one point, you would think that Girl and Leonard Cohen were recording in the same room together.
In “Us Vs Them” choreographed by Annie Franklin, the gang meets its rivals, The Baddies, led by the Mean Man. The two groups crouch low and circle each other before exploding into a series of Matrix-style, slow-motion fight scenes. In the aftermath, Girl makes a connection with Soulmate, played by Diamond Burdine. In “We Keep Going,” also by James Gregg, Boyfriend, in a fit of jealousy, lashes out at Soulmate, with Girl stuck, and struck, in the middle.
The storyline is boilerplate, and the trio of Girl, Boyfriend and Soulmate eventually encounter a “Morpheus” character named Searcher (played by Jordan Ordonez), who freestyles languidly before them, his holy-white robes drifting peacefully around him. They are invited to “The City,” but Boyfriend refuses to share Girl with anyone and leaves them, plodding away like a hulking, green-eyed monster.
Boyfriend’s betrayal leads to “A Big Fight” between the City Peeps and The Baddies which evolves into “A Really Big Fight” that has both sides grappling and rolling around on the floor like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters or being thrown through the air like ragdolls in a Chinese “wire-fu” martial arts action flick minus the wires!
Chicago Dance Crash is like a guilty pleasure that you do not need to feel guilty about. Hackman’s storyline is a summer blockbuster/popcorn muncher of a tale that expands in all directions and sinks deep into your psyche the more that you think about it.
The direction and choreography by Deahr and Co. is spontaneous and electrifying, no doubt a product of their “dancer source movement” approach to dance composition. Numerous sections are devoted to freestyle, including a full-cast cypher as a finale, guaranteeing that you could never see the same show twice. Bevis is dynamic, nuanced and one of the more fun performers one can find to watch on stage in Chicago.
So, get ready to take a strange journey and be delighted and dazzled with an odd cohort of fantastic dancers. Your time is up…it’s Booms Day, baby!
Dancers (left to right): KC Bevis, Logan Howell, Ibrahim Sabbi, Monternez Rezell, Diamond Burdine, and Jack Halbert.
Chicago Dance Crash’s “Booms Day” takes place at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N Dearborn St, on Aug. 27, Sept. 2 – 3, and Sept. 9 – 10, all shows at 7pm. Tickets are $15-25 (service fee not included) and are available at ChicagoDanceCrash.com.