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Khecari Dance Theatre’s “The Clinking, Clanking Lowesleaf” was built for an intimate space – a space that could be dissected, explored and transformed in all directions by lights, bodies, wires and blocks. A space that could tightly wrap its audience members in darkness, keeping them keenly aware of shifts in energy, shifts in choreographic intent, and even shifting stage curtains. The DCA Storefront Theatre, therefore, was the perfect venue in which to view this piece.

Jonathan Meyer and Julia Rae Antonick perform in “The Clinking, Clanging Lowesleaf.” Photo Credit: John W. Sisson Jr.

The inspiration for “The Clinking, Clanking Lowesleaf” stemmed from fairy tales, whose traditional gender roles challenged choreographer/performers Jonathan Meyer and Julia Rae Antonick. The pair reconfigured traditional fairy tale tropes to explore the stories’ underlying themes – good v. evil, frivolity v. morality, etc. – and used that information to build movement. The dancers took clear physical ownership of the resulting choreography while allowing their interpersonal relationship to remain in constant emotional flux. Repetitive musical loops mixed with human voices and static intensified this work’s eerie tone.

Throughout the evening, Meyer and Antonick used one another’s bodies as sentient props, rolling over them at unique points of contact, restricting or restraining their movements, and using their weights to counterbalance personal instabilities. One memorably awkward partnering moment featured Antonick standing on Meyer’s ankles as he, inverted in a Yoga Plow position, pulled his body forward like a human inchworm.

The intermission was a play of sorts. Emcee Suzy Grant and choreographer Jonathan Meyer addressed the audience with disjointed wordplay; half-finished sentences hung in the air as the speakers encouraged audience members to use the restrooms, stretch their legs, et cetera. The undefined end of this brief comedic episode bled into the beginning of Meyer’s “Pales.”

“Pales” / Photo Credit: Ryan Bourque

“Pales,” was thematically dense, to say the least. In this work, two men and two women shaped a collective identity through religious rituals, intimate partnering and, at times, highly presentational unison group choreography. At the beginning of this work, hooded costumes emphasized and enhanced the alien movement qualities of anonymous dancers; articulate body rolls, quick head twitches and sharply bouncing squats were made creepier by dancers’ claw-like hands and upward gestures. As time went on, the dancers performed repetitive partnering sequences; the two men competed with power moves and shifted positions on the floor while the two women formed a more intimate (but not sexual) connection.

“Pales” / Photo Credit: Ryan Bourque

Dancers broke the work’s abstract nature in moments of dance class-like choreography; simultaneously, Grant and Meyer commented from above the stage like the stodgy critics Statler and Waldorf from Jim Henson’s “The Muppets”. Though Grant and Meyer’s words were notably nicer than those of their Muppet counterparts, the intention behind them was equally insulting.

Set to a mix of religious music, found sound and piano composition, “Pales” was compositionally complex – both musically and choreographically. Though I’m not sure whether I liked or disliked “Pales” as a whole, I will say this – it challenged me as a viewer of dance, and that, in and of itself, deserves recognition.

Have you seen either of these works, or something else by Khecari Dance Theatre? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Khecari Dance Theatre – “The Clinking, Clanking Lowesleaf” and “Pales”

Directed and Choreographed by Jonathan Meyer, Julia Rae Antonick

“The Clinking, Clanging Lowesleaf” – Music composed and performed by Joe St. Charles

“Pales” – Original score composed by Christopher Preissing

Friday, July 20, 2012

DCA Storefront Theater, Chicago, IL

Presented by DCASE, Links Hall and the League of Chicago Theaters