The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, November 13, 2009, Arts


Salvage Vanguard Theater

Through Nov. 21

Choreographer Cheryl Chaddick returned to Austin in 2007 after a 20-year hiatus, so she is still introducing herself with Chaddick Dance Theater's second full-length show since her move back. Despite the program's blah title, Freefall, the four

pieces on it prove to be diverse, touched with a degree of rawness, and almost unfailingly interesting.

In the first piece of the evening, "The Gambit," April Mackey, Maia McCoy, and Kristen Studer make subtle gestures and mouth words toward the audience. Their shifting expressions are a bit cringeworthy, but it appears that the cringe is part of the point. The long skirts seem to be symbolic of situations for which the women don't know the social rules, trapping them and causing alternating moods of fear, giddiness, anger, and solemnity. After a period of wrestling with the cumbersome skirts, it seems obvious that of course the skirts will finally come off, but Studer's character steadfastly retains hers, even as the others seem to shun her. The last one to leave the stage, Studer makes this gesture before walking off: She traces two circles around her face, points to her nose, and tugs her ear. I don't know what this means, but it is surprising and a heck of a lot of fun to think about.

Before the second dance, a pause is filled by a dizzying slideshow of photographs from India taken by Chaddick's sister, Cynthia Chaddick. While a bit of a non sequitur, watching the slideshow is more interesting than it would be to sit in mid-darkness for five minutes, so why not. The next piece, "Three for Violin," is a romp for five dancers, though the variety of groupings made them seem like more. In autumn-toned velvet dresses (designed by Elizabeth Vowell), the dancers show lots of euphoria and upstretched arms. This piece lacks dynamics but shows off the freshness and ease of Mackey and Lynn Forney in particular.

Next on the program is "I'm Your Lullaby," a campy study in which McCoy, Forney, Chaddick, and Kate Warren each portray a character from what might be called the suburbs of art. According to the program notes, McCoy's character, "Teenie" Tahtas, "studied jazz/tap combo at Ms. Bonnie's School of Dance" and now teaches Sit and Be Fit on public access; Warren's character, Toni Grover, sells the work of Thomas Kinkade as co-owner of the Art Is Beautiful gallery somewhere outside of Lubbock. With Forney as a chanteuse who opens for the tractor pull at county fairs and Chaddick as a modeling-school dropout and "plant aura" photographer, the piece is hilarious and has oodles of substance in the character development department.

The final work, "The Watchful Sleeping Heart," generally marries the unprocessed quality evident in "The Gambit" with greater clarity of form and a more crystalline motive. The work for seven dancers depicts an exodus, and while projected backgrounds of desert and then forest suggest the biblical exodus, the piece plugs in to personal struggles or purges as well. The dancers wander and grapple, then find themselves splayed up against the back wall of the stage. McCoy is intense, hip, and fluid in a tormented solo section. Near the end of the piece, the ensemble rubs quick circles over their chests as if to restart their hearts' beating before it ends in silence.

While there is no clear thread connecting the pieces in the program, each is worthwhile, some are funny, and at times they satisfy both the eyes' hankering for aesthetic and the brain's hunger for complexity. The show runs for three weekends – an eternity for dance in this city – so there's plenty of time to see it, then grab a drink and toast the new(ish) choreographer in town.

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