By Lauren Warnecke
The Chicago debut of Denver-based Evolving Doors Dance, directed by wife-wife team Angie Simmons and Amy Shelley, accompanied RE|Dance Group’s spring concert last weekend at Links Hall. Evolving Doors opened the evening with “Relative Weight & Tiny Surrenders,” and this title seems highly appropriate despite Shelley’s sound score featuring recorded musings (assumed to be the dancers’ voices) on identity, politics, natural disaster, and war. The charged text, however, was matched neither by its musical accompaniment nor Simmons’ choreographic choices.
There are some lovely moments in “Relative Weight & Tiny Surrenders,” particularly in its solos performed by Angie Simmons and Daniel Mont-Eton, but it is quite desperate for a climax. The whole piece comes across as nimble and overly cautious, and could benefit greatly from some loud music, cacophonous dancing, full unison phrases, etc. The musical score of pretty piano and effortless (almost too effortless) movement quality yielded “tiny surrenders” that were a bit too tiny for the subject matter Evolving Doors Dance is trying to tackle.
In the second act, RE|Dance’s “It’s About Love Again this Year” opens in quite the same way as last season’s “The Long and Forgotten Winter” ended. Soft lighting, vintage costumes, arms outstretched, dancers gazing upward to the heavens, and, true to form, a really long title. The “E” in RE|Dance is Michael Estanich, who shares his time between Steven’s Point, WI, where he teaches at the University of Wisconsin, and Chicago, where he houses his choreography with RE|Dance. This latest effort is perhaps his best yet.
“It’s About Love Again this Year,” is a series of scenes exploring the ups, downs, and sideways of love. From Lucy Riner (the “R” in RE|Dance) scarfing down cake to Estanich embodying a puppy playing fetch, to a game of musical chairs, “It’s About Love” does not follow a linear narrative, but its characters are so endearing that somehow it all seems to make sense together. The jewels of the piece are the moments that are either the simplest, or the most complex. In grandiose style, Estanich choreographs a ballet filled with “impressive” moments including a fair share of grand jetés and a few fouetté turns. Members of the cast take turns showing off their skills, while the others assume posed positions in the back and ooo and ahh at the performers. Equally poignant is a moment in which each dancer takes a turn at a downstage microphone to share with us their wishes. From Riner’s, “I wish I could start over,” to dancer Jonathan Monroe-Cook’s “I wish I had chosen the belt over the suspenders,” this pause in the action for quiet and honesty resonated most.
Estanich consistently combines an acute sensibility for beautiful visual landscapes (in collaboration with set designer Grant Saban) with his signature luscious, balletic phrasing, but where his last two dances – “The Long and Forgotten Winter” in 2014 and “1/4 inch Below the Surface of the Earth” the year before – struggled to find a flow amongst ALL that pretty dancing, “It’s About Love” strikes a magical balance peppered with humor and pensivity, between radiance and the ridiculous. In truth, if someone had been so bold as to go first, “It’s About Love Again this Year” would have brought this critic to her feet.