Visceral Dance Chicago Review- SpringFIVE a Triumph at the Harris Theatre, Chicago

Hanna Brictson and Riccardo Battaglia in "Impetere" by Nick Pupillo; photo by Todd Rosenberg
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Visceral Dance Chicago (VDC) presented SPRINGFIVE on April 7, 2018 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive in Millennium Park, Chicago. The second main stage Chicago performance of the company’s fifth year, it included Impetere and Senza Di te, both choreographed in 2013 by Artistic Director, Nick Pupillo; his 2018 world premiere, Soft Spoken; Monica Cervantes’ Changes, 2014; and Kevin O’Day’s new commission, The Fine Line.

This technically sensational and interpersonally cohesive company moved through Pupillo’s work in particular with strength and assurance and brought a fine panache to all the pieces on the program. Pupillo’s signature touches are: romantic/athletic duets, finely expressive hands, infusions of balletic style, and an eclectic mix of percussive modern or lyrical orchestral music interspersed with spot-on ballads. His troupe impresses as a collection of artists who can attempt and achieve any dance vision to fruition.

Paige Fraser and Braeden Barnes in “Impetere” by Nick Pupillo; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Impetere (2013)

Nick Pupillo choreographed this piece; he has said it “introduced the company’s strong technique and athleticism”. The meaning of the title in Latin is “to impeach, to attack or assault”. The full company of 10 took over the stage in sexy black corset-inspired costumes by Maggie Jarecki to the eerie modern music of various artists. As the heat on stage intensified, the music and our senses literally “snap, crackle and pop!” Five loose duets- athletic to the max- coupled with solo work and innovative groupings gave the audience an expert class in strength, sinew and shape. The women appear as legendary goddesses, the men as god-like examplars; the piece buzzes with sensuality and the distinctive high-energy moves of VDC.

Senza Di te (2013)

Choreographed by Nick Pupillo, and described as “a romantic pas des deux”, the title is based upon an Italian phrase the meaning of which is “without you”. An impossibly graceful couple- Meredith Harrill in a flowing silken gown and Riccardo Battaglia bare-chested in classic slacks by Mariah Turner- perform a jointure of tender and sensual movements. To the strains of ultra romantic/gypsyish music performed live with passion and feeling by cellists Harrison Cook and Desiree Miller, these two sculpt scenes of a journey through love to redemption. The dance evoked many shades of emotion and was more than a little provocative; beautifully done.

Riccardo Battaglia and Meredith Harrill in “Senza di te” by Nick Pupillo; photo by Todd Rosenberg

Changes (2014)

Choreographed by Monica Cervantes, named by Dance Magazine as one of “25 to Watch” for 2013, this is “an exploration…in our modern day…that embeds snapshots and vignettes from daily life within driving and abstract ensemble movement”.

Cervantes is the second choreographer after Pupillo himself to work with the VDC members. The experience, says Pupillo, “changed the company dramatically. Her movement vocabulary is so unique, and they were so enormously inspired by her!” Changes, reinvented for last year’s “SpringFOUR”, has become a signature work for VDC. It has been described as “the exploration of a complex world of mutating relationships.” The spectrum of moves reflected in this work is wide and deep, a veritable kaleidoscope of images reflected in the insightful body language of the troupe. With moves and attitudes that grow from tentative to compelled and compelling, the dancers move like acolytes in tableaux of relatedness.

This full company piece set to iconic music by F**k Buttons and Phillip Glass, with the women dancers in off-white flowing dresses, the men in off-white singlets and khaki-grey pants by Maggie Jarecki. The piece included split-second reversals, stunning duets and solo work with powerful lifts filled with emotion. The dance proceeded propulsively toward an explosion of confetti-like particles that exuded on the stage, as though the very inner workings of the dancers’ selves were scattered about for all to witness.

Hanna Brictson and Braeden Barnes in “Changes” by Monica Cervantes; photo by Todd Rosenberg

– The Fine Line (2018)

Choreographed by Kevin O’Day, this piece was described as “based on strength and vulnerability and the fine line in between”. Unfortunately, much of the music, by various artists, came across as over-amped and intrusive; all of it was too loud. Thus, it was difficult to actually focus on the dancers whose dexterous moves appeared to be somehow unguided. Perhaps to see this dance once is insufficient; there is so much going on it is impossible to take it all in at once!

O’Day, since 2002 Artistic Director of the Nationaltheater Mannheim Ballet, since renamed Kevin O’Day Ballet NTM, has produced more than 60 original ballets as a choreographer. In conversation for a Splash preview article, O’Day commented that he approaches choreography as “a kind of framework or vessel in which the dancers move, finding the line between force and fragility, expressing themselves”.

Thus, the intention of O’Day may have been well met in the seemingly unfettered nature of the steps on stage. These fine performance artists, dressed in shapely black and blue garments by Moriah Turner, created surreal shapes, entwined and leaping, like spectres from another dimension, defined by the sound.

Riccardo Battaglia, Prince Lyons, Caitlin Cucchiara, Noelle Kayser and Visceral Dance Chicago in “A Fine Line” by Kevin O’Day; photo by Todd Rosenberg

– Soft Spoken (2018)

Choreographed by Nick Pupillo and commissioned in part by Pamela Crutchfield, the new work “explores the sensation of hesitating and holding back to what should be said in a series of relationships in different stages – beginning, middle and near end.” Draped in subdued green kirtles by Moriah Turner, the women looked like creatures from Celtic mythology, the men their standard-bearers. The music by Colin Stetson and Arvo Part is entrancing, the torch songs by Frank Sinatra and Irma Thomas both whimsical and mood-altering; kudos to sound design by Nick Pupillo and Johnny Nevin.

This full-company dance harked back to the first dance on the program, demonstrating an evolution in cohesiveness. The piece opens with the dancers running across the stage and ends with them striding off into the audience and back. In between, there is a mature fluidity coupled with an explicit willingness to push the envelope of modern ballet, exciting and evolutionary. The hand-to-head gestures, a characteristic of Pupillo’s choreography, serve to draw connections between movement and feeling.

Mario Gonzalez and Noelle Kayser in “Soft Spoken” by Nick Pupillo; photo by Michelle Reid

Throughout the evening, soft lighting effects by Brian Sidney Bembridge and Nathan Tomlinson coupled with the back of the performance space draped with white cobwebby curtains provided a fine foil for each utterly distinctive dancer. All were given the opportunity to partner, to perform in groups, to dance solo, and they all absolutely shone. In Inpetere, for example, Caitlin Cucchiara and Prince Lyons were cast as beings of incredible agilility; Riccardo Battaglia and Meredith Harrill transformed the duet genre in Senza di te; Joel Walsham was a force to reckon with along with the primal force of Paige Fraser in Changes; Noelle Kayser and Mario Gonzalez kept and held the tension in A Fine Line, while Hanna Brictson and  Braeden Barnes individually took one’s breath away in Soft Spoken.

For information and tickets to all the fine performances and programs of Visceral Dance Chicago, go to the visceraldance website







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