Housed in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Sidney R. Yates Gallery, Walkabout Theater Company, in association with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events presented a night of ethereal dance exploring the delicate balance of sickness and healing juxtaposed against industrialized medicine. This dreamlike ensemble dance piece may not be for everyone’s palate, but Walkabout Theater Company is not about traditional or linear story telling. The performances are being made free to the public, so all that you have to lose is just over an hour of your time, while being exposed to an unconventional performance art form. Directed by Kendra Miller, The Cure featured commissioned text from Emma Stanton, her dialog merged in interwoven narrative type snippets, set to choreographed movement and music. The entire piece created and performed by Walkabout ensemble members Nigel Brown, McCambridge Dowd-Whipple, Cooper Forsman, Dana Murphy, Katie Mazzini, Thom Pasculli and Paul Scudder with guest collaborators Anirudh Nair and Amba-Suhasini Jhala. The agile and animated cast of Walkabout Theater Company members, with their complex, gyrating gymnastics and overly expressive faces also benefitted from the expertise of contributing choreographers Camille Litalien and Chris Herde.
The night I attended was with a capacity crowd, standing room only, so regrettably, the beginning segment occurred in a space, far too tight to see all the activity that was going on. This problematic performance area made the audience feel much like a cocooned caterpillar. The butterfly emerged about 15 minutes into the piece, when the audience was lead from the confines of the restrictive white hallway into the spacious full gallery. There we could experience the full cornucopia of interpretive dance, expressing a full range of decisive emotions. Grief, disease, fear, and panic balanced against hope, longing, passion and love. The middle eastern influences were undeniable to recognize during this collaborative effort of modern dance and abstract story telling. Contained in this magical purgatory, the pursuit of faith against an uncertain future and inevitable death, while systematically desperately searching for a cure. Sound pretentious and over your head?
There are elements on display that clearly worked. The imperious, man-made wooden gurneys vs. the flowing, organic flow of cascading white tapestry fabrics was a powerful visual. The resilient and repeated rotations of the dancers throughout the room, much like a dizzying galaxy of planets, lead the viewer’s gaze across the entire recital space. Teaming the snake-oil salesman, a would be physician, with the angels and fairies of the remainder of the cast, clearly showed the contempt for western civilization’s medicinal approach to fighting ailments and infection. Twirling vials of a magical day-glow serum made the doctors appear wanton drug pushers. Michael Banks lighting design in a 360 degree staging was daring and affecting. Costume designer Jeffrey Hancock rose to the challenge of the story telling and required movement of the dancers with pieces of exposed boning on all of his creations, much like the exoskeleton of an insect, rendered in sheer, white, & taupe with accents of wine, burgundy, and red, continued the themes of blood vs. flesh. The Greek and Hindu mythology accents in costumes and setting were striking. The staged images of the piece, clearly the strongest asset. Beyond the sheer power of the dancers and their intimate, resilient and robust movement, the use of the full gallery as a stage captivated.
What didn’t work for me was the preposterous insertion of 1980’s power ballads, sung off-key, like a primeval banshee’s wail. The result was distracting and, quite frankly, giggle inducing. Instantly recognizable music, including snippets from Heart’s “Crazy For You,” “These Dreams” and “Alone” as well as Pat Benetar’s “We Belong” stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. It immediately took me out of the moment of Walkabout’s proposed story telling and the intricacies of the staged movement. This diversion interrupted any insinuated timeline and pulled focus in a most befuddling of ways. If this is ever restaged, cut the recognizable music pieces immediately. Obtrusive, disrupting and completely unnecessary.
Walkabout Theater Company’s The Cure is a intricate and abstract performance art piece. Balancing convoluted concepts of hope in the face of dire circumstances, this was a piece not designed or suited for everyone’s tastes. The regurgitation abstraction segment was quite uncomfortable to watch, but that strikes me as the strength of what Walkabout Theater Company is attempting to do here. Theirs is not about the confines of comfortable story telling. When they step so far out of the lines, something’s will work while some will not. Like all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The Cure is now playing at the Chicago Culture Center’s Sidney R. Yates Gallery now through June 18, 2016