If movement serves as language, then the Space Movement Project, a Chicago-based modern dance collective, displays fluency in its Cincy Fringe debut, Safety in Numbers. The six women dance a lot throughout the piece, and their movement vocabulary proved extensive; I recall only a few recurring motifs.
I was surprised that different company members had choreographed different sections of the work, because the style and tone remain so singular throughout. (Being a true collective, the group says it shares all creative decision-making.) One the plus side, this makes the piece’s half-dozen or so sections feel cohesive. On the downside, it feels a bit monochromatic at times.
Speaking of monochromatic, Chicago designer Colin Bunting’s delightfully off-kilter costumes were anything but. Six unique silhouettes — all very asymmetrical — were constructed (or one might say, deconstructed) from swatches of several colorful fabrics of all manner of texture and print. Striking but not distracting, they lent the work appealingly quirky, downtown flavor.
An original score from Birds Inverted gave the work an atmosphere of shifting moods and tempos with its array of strings, drums, chimes and even tambourine during one Spanish-tinged segment. Interestingly, the music felt more variable style-wise than the choreography.
Having written a preview of this work, I knew that Safety in Numbers was centered on individual personal experiences of living in Chicago.
Programs weren’t available on opening night, and I wondered whether audience members knew what the piece was “about.” The sense I came away with was that these stories must have served as inspiration more than an apparent narrative. But then I heard a performer telling an audience member about movements where they were immigrants shampooing hair, sweeping the floor and more. I thought, “Whoa, I didn’t read any of that.” Still, suggestion can often prove more powerful than outright literalism.
So, back to language. The dancers have their own ways of communicating among themselves within the piece, and perhaps their audience is intended only to be allowed partway into the performers’ world. The choreography involves meticulous, elaborate gestures, especially involving hands and arms. It feels like a codified language that brings the dancers together — or causes friction among the social relationships: duets, trios and the full group.
These relationships form the work’s essential structure, with sections being delineated by breakaway solos, duets, trios fading in and out. Like a big city, the work never stops. They eye each other at a distance, they swarm and circle one another. They connect often with limbs extended. Was there something more they were trying to communicate?
Occasionally, the partnering and lifts felt too timid, but memorable moments arose from some other closer connections. A woman falls forward and is “lifted” back upright by her chin repeatedly. Later, another woman grabs the same woman’s head in her hands to move her. I also noted playfulness and even subtle flirtations.
The dancers often support one another, literally and figuratively, through evident struggles. I enjoyed these moments that break away from the choreography’s more concentrated, almost “studied” prevailing stylistic feel. At times, I hungered for a more stepped-up sense of something ... abandonment? Risk perhaps? But, narrative or no, their moving sculptural precision is aesthetically pleasing to watch in and of itself.
Choreographically, the final unison group sections are the most compelling as the dancers swiftly sweep all over and across the stage. Excellent, full use of the space prevails throughout the work.
The dancers possess strong presence, skill and focus that reads particularly well in the intimate space of Gabriel’s Corner. Overall, a strong effort with plenty of clean dancing.
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