Visceral Dance Fall Engagement @ Harris Theater

3 out of 4 stars 


A flattering night for Visceral Dance at their fall engagement. With a selection of pieces from the company’s strong repertoire, Visceral Dance reminds that they are a strong force in the contemporary sphere. The five pieces of the night complimented each other well as a progression from Mark Godden’s more classical work and ending on Visceral Dance’s founder and Artistic Director, Nick Pupllio’s piece entitled Synapse, which premiered this past spring. 

Within this five segmented evening, Nick Pupillo’s She Three (2015) stands out as nothing short of breath taking. Pupillo pushes the boundaries in examining the human connection as told through three strong female dancers, who tread between singular being and relationship. This piece was particularly striking due to the significance and symbolism of the repetitious three seen through the work. The number three holds a strong significance from a historical and cultural lens, such as the three fates of Greek Mythology, the holy trinity of Christianity, the three treasures of Buddhism, and the triple goddess of Wicca. The Neo-pagan deity of the triple goddess includes the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Each symbolizes a stage in the female life cycle and a phase of the Moon, which seems subtly represented in this piece. trong circular motions while they dance together creates an ebb and flow eluding to loose thematic elements regarding female empowerment and struggle. Three spotlights brought low, within feet from the floor, illuminates solely the dancers’ torsos. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s lighting design for this piece is incredibly striking. With these pools of light, tension and isolated focus are used in an unexpected way to exemplify the concept of the singular versus the collective. The design is actively changing as the dancers move from solo motion to interwoven movement, while the three individual spots create one large focus of light. The fluidity in actions unfold and the passing of time is told by the book-ended by Goldmund’s haunting staccato melody. A triad of music, movement and light elevates an intriguing perspective on humanity and femininity to a new level.

Ruff Celts (2016) can be best described as when modern meets tradition in a bold explosion of power, splendor and humor. Marguerite Donlon, choreographer and conceptualist, encapsulates classical themes of Celtic culture in one beautiful avant-garde experience. Dancers begin in line on a golden half lit background evoking the imagery of a rising sun, a key element in the brilliant lighting design by Nathan Tomlinson. One can sense a story commencing that is further illustrated with Tomlinson’s execution, which wonderfully contributes to the raw sensation and expression of Donlon’s vision. Dancer Ricardo Battaglia enchants with a controlled smooth power in the dynamic combinations and extensions. Battaglia joined Visceral in January of 2017 and teaches at The Ailey Extension in New York and the Joffery Ballet School in Chicago, as well as in several studios around the USA and Italy. A plethora of emotive music, not limited to Sam Auinger, De Dannan, and Sinead O’Connor, breathes life and energy into this complex piece. The audio selection paired with varied motifs, such as love, comedy, and mystery often found in Celtic folklore, creates something wild and rare. Why stop at stunning visual aesthetics and tantalizing music though? Donlon’s keen eye for detail is flawlessly highlighted in her concept for minimal costuming. The simple black leotards wore by female dancers and black contemporary kilts by the male dancers were only paired with an Elizabethan ruff. This costuming choice holds strong significance in this cross dimensional allusion to history. The performance sets itself apart by these specific historical fashion trends and illustrating the progression of dance from communication into an art form. Bobbing beats, lumbering limbs and vocal calls portray a nod to ancient Celtic and pre-historic existence. An ambiguous sense of history propels the audience forward through time with each rich movement. The inspired wide time-ranging details from music to body positions to costuming creates an impressive all-encompassing homage to the Celtic culture.

In it’s world premiere, Pick A Chair is a colorful exploration of meta theater and dance. Made possible by the Princess Grace Foundation, Danielle Agami’s choreography breaths an absurdist take on visual story telling by merging verbal narrative and dance. With music by Glenn Kotche, this work begins as a story about a cellist on the verge of a modern style performance. The cellist states to whom this performance will be dedicated to and distraction from dancers ensue. Aggressive large movements from fierce pouncing upon one another to being dragged across the floor, the dancers illustrate the spoken narrative initially before moving into their own time and space. The variety of disheveled outfits represent not only individuals of the cellist’s past, but perhaps anxiety physicalized. The disconnect between dancers and cellist is an impenetrable fourth wall until one side submits. The variety of disheveled outfits represent not only individuals of the past but anxiety physicalized. Some themes gleaned from this performance would be the concept of being an artist, as well as the privileged in our society and relationships between us all. It seemed the general consensus upon leaving was the large shift from the previous selections. Agami’s abstract vision tackles many themes into one compelling and challenging piece. While highly enjoyable, it felt that it would be better served in a more cohesively structured correlated evening. Agami studied at the Jersualem Academy of Music and Dance Highschool and was a member of the Batsheva Dance Company. Agami also formed the Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY formed in 2012 and is now based in Los Angeles.  

While not all accounted for in this review, the variety showcased in this evening’s performance has a style for everyone from more classical pieces to avant-garde modern works. The sheer command in each performance gave a cohesive meaningful feel in its own right. Taking the audience through a mesmerizing eclectic whirlwind is no easy feat, yet was effortlessly achievable by the mastery of these artists. The experience reaffirms Visceral Dance Chicago lives up to all its well deserved praise. Without a doubt this company has a promising and bright future ahead.

For more information on Visceral Dance Chicago and their upcoming performances and classes, please visit the company’s website:

Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!