Traffic-stopping 'Dance on the Deck' marks Project Bound's euphoric return to live

Project Bound Dance’s “Dance on the Deck,” a free, outdoor one-night-only mini festival on Friday featured two new works by the presenting company, as well as performances from Chicago Dance Crash, RE|dance group, Britney C. Johnson and student performers from The Hive. Curated by Project Bound co-artistic directors Ashley Deran and Emily Loar, the shared-bill delivered non-stop innovation, palpable magnetism and intergenerational joy on Hexe Coffee’s patio.

RE|dance group, under the direction of creative partners Lucy Vurusic-Riner and Michael Estanich, presented two excerpted works: “What the Moon Pulls” and “The Attic Room.” Standout moments from “What the Moon Pulls” include a duet between Zachary Bird and Anthony Taylor-Davis followed by a Stacy DeMorrow solo. Bird and Taylor-Davis encircled one another at the edges of the stage with visibly focused breath and gaze; creating a gravitational pull between their bodies that was weighted but absent unnecessary tension. Their partnering, smooth as butter, coiled and recoiled into itself like springs compressing under and flying off the weight of one another. DeMorrow retraced the duet’s circular pathways as Bird and Taylor-Davis dispersed. The soundscape shifted with DeMorrow’s entrance, marking a transition into an enchanting siren-like melody. Almost immediately, a firetruck sped down Damen Avenue, sirens blaring, seemingly responding to her call. DeMorrow shared a quick, knowing smile. Ah, the unpredictability of outdoor performances where your environment becomes an active collaborator.

Further into “What the Moon Pulls,” a trio gently rode the reverberations of the backs upon which they literally stood. Danielle Gilmore met the eyes of perhaps the youngest and most eager audience member in this moment of swaying. Gilmore redirected her fluid gestures from the sky toward the toddler with a radiant warmth and ease. A beautifully precious exchange of admiration ensued as the little girl began mimicking Gilmore’s movements and clapping her hands in excitement. I’m still smiling from this magic.

Chicago Dance Crash performed an explosive set featuring choreography by Monyett Crump, Crash’s artistic director Jessica Deahr, Walter Maybell and a culminating freestyle by Logan Howell, Monternez Rezell and Diamond Burdine set to Bobby Byrd’s “I Know You Got Soul.” Simply put, Crash is smooth as heck (grown folks, insert the expletive). The dancers’ highly unique styles collided while riding shared waves of energy throughout each piece, showcasing the dancers’ individuality and personality while simultaneously boasting the ensemble’s mind-blowing precision and collective storytelling abilities.

Deahr’s “Sisters,” a duet for Kelsey Reiter and KC Bevis, amplified this dynamic. The pair covered every inch of the stage, masterfully shifting between hip hop, contemporary partnering, breaking, acrobatics and vaudeville-esque theater dance with unparalleled athleticism and confidence.

Johnson’s self-choreographed and performed solo, “Brown Sugar Cinnamon,” centered pleasure and held a multitude of choice points that created a lively tension between “what was set” and what wasn’t. Johnson took several moments to pause, nod, crack a smile, meet someone’s eye, conversate, sing and gesture to or at the audience. The powerful freedom to improvise in response to her surroundings and in-the-moment impulses brought me into Johnson’s performance. Johnson indulged in her sensuality with the knowledge such was fully in view of spectators. This added another layer of tension between what was acknowledged and what was left unsaid.

Project Bound’s “Sunset’s That Way,” choreographed by company member Alix Schillaci, featured DeMorrow, Kathryn Hetrick, Haley Marcin, Sarah Ellen Miller, Sarah Morimoto and co-artistic director Emily Loar. The company, engrossed by piles of uncooked rice, slowly shook off the trance and rose to their feet as Miller shoved a glittered placard into the air that read: “COMING SOON.” Timber Timbre’s haunting song “Run From Me” accompanied a cluster of dancers huddling together before striking mismatched poses. An out-numbered Loar widened her stance. This sequence looped. Think Hollywood Wild West fast draw, meets Diversey Parkway, meets Project Bound Dance in matching brown unitards with sequined and tasseled gold star patches. At last, the huddle emerged cohesively with their hips pushed forward, hands in holsters and eyes directed at Loar. Recognizing the offensive posturing, Loar—perfectly in sync with the audience’s perception of the image taking shape—tentatively raised her fists: “You better run for your life.”

The cinematic genius continued to unfold as Loar captured the audience’s attention with a sustained teasing out of a Flashdance-esque, pull-the-lever moment (replacing Jennifer Beals’ bucket of water with Loar’s cup of rice). The suspense was palpable: “Is this actually going to happen?” I thought. Oh yes, it did. The non-linear narrative of the work championed disruptions and kept me leaning in from the “COMING SOON” card up until “THE END.”

“What’s Left Over,” by Deran and Loar, celebrated the company’s long-awaited return to the studio after pandemic shutdowns and literally stopped foot and car traffic, mesmerizing passersby. Curved pathways weaved together luscious spirals of endless full-bodied dancing. I felt the piece shift from atmospheric to optimistic as the beat dropped and the dancers widened the corners of their mouths into smiles. The emphasis was on the now.