A synchronal event is when more than one happening occurs at the same time and/or when something has the same period or phase. Can both these descriptions be contained in the same dance concert? Yes, they can.
Alluvion Dance Chicago begins their ninth season with “Synchronal,” a concert featuring the work of Associate Artistic Director, Alyssa Simpson, and Tessa Ritchey, performed April 7-8 at the Edge Theater in Edgewater, capably lit by Lighting Designer Hannah Wien.
Tessa Ritchey’s “Watch Out For The Mangos” is fast-paced, full of precision-timed ripples, successive movements that, when done well, give the effect of watching the interlocking parts of a well-oiled machine. In straight, stage-spanning diagonal lines, arms like metal teeth jab out in quick succession, a fantastic zipper-like effect. The effect is repeated in variations— arm chop with a low-crouched pounce, then with a sharp turn of the head. After the fifth or sixth repeat the effect starts to lose its luster; but as a dancer myself, I know how much practice it takes to pull these timed ripples off, and these are so precise that I can’t blame Ritchey for wanting to show off.
Elements of comedy and symbols of death give “Mangos” some personality. Macabre visuals of possessed bodies swaying and limp bodies being dragged off stage set a somber mood; elements of comedy, clowning and pantomime—a hand grabbing the jaw of the person next to them, opening their mouth, closing it again, covering up their eyes—lighten things up but remain highbrow, never degrading into puerile slapstick. Like a painter experimenting with all the colors on their palette, Ritchey paints “Watch Out For The Mangos” using a confident stroke, and plenty of bravado but with a company of dancers good enough technically to back it up.
“Machine” by Alyssa Simpson is a patchwork of ideas in a series of well-defined vignettes. Like Spartan warriors in close rank formation, an infantry marches back and forth, arms up defensively. The mighty warriors are flung side to side like giant ragdolls on the deck of a ship while being battered by monumental waves, pulled at the waist by invisible strings, arms and legs following limply after their bodies.
The mood changes to pastoral countryside observing two woodland creatures in a frolic, jumping over and rolling under each other to the sound of pan flutes and birds chirping. Next, magenta lights wash over the stage as a funky beat ushers in an homage to jazz dance. Several bodies engender sarcastic and cool imagery via sharp, angular poses reminiscent of Bob Fosse’s “The Rich Man’s Frug” performed in the Pompeii Club in “Sweet Charity”. In “Machine,” Simpson combines three solid standalone scenes served prix fixe, each clearly defined by contrasting styles.
Both works when put next to each other are similar in format, a bunch of incohesive ideas placed side by side, like a dance mix tape. It will be exciting to see both artists develop works that explore a single theme more fully—it seems that both Simpson and Ritchey have creativity to spare! But you will forgive a choreographer their indulgences when the dancers are as passionate and rhythmically acute as the those in Alluvion, with honorable mention to company member Lauren Smith in a solo in “Mangos” where she plays a coiled hunter ready to pounce.
“Synchronal” does just what its name implies by presenting the work of two artists in the same program both exhibiting similar phases of creativity. If performed feebly the premise would not be engaging, but the capable company of dancers brings these frenetic works to life, a strong start of season for Alluvion Dance Chicago.