On June 16, Visceral Dance Chicago presented “Solus,” a showcase of nine works, each by different choreographers, set on soloists chosen from the ranks of the VDC dance company. In April and May of this year, shows like “Spring9” and “Take” showed off the company’s cohesive unity, but in “Solus,” each individual member of the company teams up with a notable choreographer and gets a chance to show off their strengths. The pieces are connected by short transitions that bring all nine dancers to the stage as they recite short aphorisms—One cycle ends for another to begin—with deadpan quality. As they exit, the next soloist is left behind.
“Metamorphosis,” co-choreographed by Malcolm Maurice and Jules Morales, features dancer Samantha Weeks being pulled this way and that, her body sweeping languidly across a floor filled with tumbling long sticks of light, spurred on by a heavy downbeat dripping with bass. A surprised look on Weeks’ face seems to say, “Look at the time!” in reference to her back leg, shooting straight up and ticking counterclockwise to the side, like an inverted human clock. Soft, beckoning arms and delicate turns serve as little else but to move Weeks around the stage, but it is worth the wait to see what interesting image she will embody next.
Brian Eno’s “Between These Walls” features the hypermobile Michelle Meltzer, who moves weightlessly with what appear to be rubber joints. Like a demon, Meltzer drops to the floor and performs a creepy crawl from back to front, legs and arms crisscrossing in an inhuman fashion, eyes fixated on the audience. Meanwhile, she is bombarded with light from all angles, and awash in somber arpeggios played on a piano. The combination of Meltzer’s physical abilities and the fluidity in Eno’s choreography make for a captivating piece.
“No End, No Goodbye” by Ricky Ruiz begins with Tyler Kerbel displaying multiple personalities that coincide with the sound of a flipping radio channels. A news clip elicits a wiggling, deep squat and the tune “Angel of the Morning” evokes a sensual caress of hand against face. The sound of a strummed guitar awakens Kerbel from a groggy stupor. With renewed energy he launches himself into large, spinning leaps with legs scissor kicking midair. “No End, No Goodbye” is presented as an abstraction of real life, but the sympathy I felt seeing a body torn between order and chaos was real.
“Farewell” by Imani English is like a series of live pictures that smoothly morph from one into the next. Dancer Bennet Cullen is terrifying, posing with clawed hands and arms chomping like a giant mouth. Later, he is butter in a hot skillet as he glides across the floor in a series of body rolls. Cullen is followed by shifting overhead spotlights, a black outline frames his every move makes them visually pop. While ripe with athleticism, the intensity in “Farewell” resides in the clever, picturesque moments created by English, embodied by Cullen’s precise movements.
“a real piece of work” by Erin Kilmurray and collaborator/performer Morgan McDaniel begins with McDaniel wearing a black hoodie and connecting a laptop to a small speaker for no apparent reason. “The thing about life,” says McDaniels, “there is always a technical difficulty,” which feels like an impromptu hint as to way the devices are equivocally there. In silence, McDaniel performs static stalls on one hand and shoulder, then a roll to the floor and kips up from her back onto her feet, sneakers squeaking as they grip the floor. Out of nowhere, the song “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin prompts McDaniel to circle the stage in a series of deep lunges that fall into a slow-motion spiral, arm circling overhead. Poor audio quality — the song is sometimes too quiet, sometimes too loud — plagues this presentation of “a real piece of work,” but McDaniels rolls with it, and instills in the work a good dose of heart and personality.
Hanna Brictson’s “Bask” features Meagan Cubides kicking and leaping in a balletic style. An ever building orchestra of violins send syncopated accents rippling through Cubides’ body like physical blows. Cubides rolls on the ground, building momentum, and then launches up into a big leap, arms and legs splayed out to the sides, as the music swells to a climax. Cubides’ sharp body lines are a nice contrast to the otherwise general “flowiness” of the dancing thus far.
In “City of Dis” by Eddy Ocampo, Meredith Harrill acts like a marionette whose arms, legs and head are controlled by some invisible force. Unlike the anthropomorphic toys in popular children’s movies, Harrill is not happy about her predicament, distancing herself with a pitiful backward crawl on all fours. Harrill puts her hands together in prayer, begging the force to release her, but her puppet master is relentless. Ocampo’s twisted vision of dominance and control, performed passionately by Harrill, is a dark world that I wouldn’t want to live in, but would gladly watch again.
“A Previous Journey” by Jackie Nowicki features the athletic and nimble Brandon Talbott performing several impressive technical feats. From flat on the floor, Talbott launches himself into a 360-degree spin, his body whipping around like a ragdoll. A one-handed spinning handstand elicits an audible reaction from the audience. To the sound of an ominous heartbeat, Talbott twitches and spasms like an undead zombie. Nowicki’s quick pivots from one visual subject to the next really held my attention, and the piece seemed to be over before I knew it.
“TLC (Tinder Loving Care)” by Harrison McEldowney is a bright ray of sunshine amongst the otherwise gloomy pieces in the program. Brandishing a wide, mischievous smile, dancer Braeden Barnes prepares for a date by listening to a sex tips podcast, each tip bringing out another side of his personality. Barnes waltzes with a coat rack like Gene Kelly. Then he is John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever, “ pointing the eponymous “disco finger” up in the air while rocking his pelvis back and forth. Fosse, Sinatra, Balanchine… There is a little smattering of all of them, and Barnes’ fluid transitions from one personification to the next, supported by his energetic stage presence, grabs your attention and locks you in. “TLC (Tinder Loving Care)” reminds us that dance is serious business, especially when dealing with comedy!
On one hand, the buffet-like smorgasbord of choreographers is sure to include something for everyone’s tastes. On the other hand, some of the pieces were very similar, and their brevity, save for the interstitial spoken word transitions, threatened to give the performance a recital-type vibe. What I really appreciate about “Solus” is the opportunity to get to know the dancers, one at a time, up close and personal, to hear their voices and take in their respective styles. “Solus” is an intimate celebration of VDC’s talented company members both on and off the stage. The next time you get a chance to get to know them, take it.