The Dance COLEctive, founded by Margi Cole in 1996, is an athletic company whose physicality and versatility was exemplified at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts on January 28-30. The program, entitled “Meet Me There,” explored ideas of personality, identity, and how we define our place in the world; the physical and expressive program was presented in three pieces.
Three Women, by distinguished Chicago choreographer Shirley Mordine, was first performed in 1974. Three dancers, including Margi Cole, entered in an amber light, clad in tattered country dresses. During the first section of the piece, they conjured images mischievous girls, frolicking, stomping, and flinging each other around the stage in amazingly controlled wildness. Rhythm played an important role, and even though much of the piece was in silence, their breath and footwork kept the dancers in synch. The golden overhead light was filtered as if the women were dancing in tall fields at sunset, and their sly smiles were genuine and unaffected. Later sections of the piece were more somber, accompanied by chanted spiritual music and spoken text referring to religious obligations. The women took turns with solos; one lifted her heart and arms to the heavens, the next was childlike and playful, and the last was frustrated and angular. I found the piece to be a beautifully reflective, echoing the often-cyclical paths we take when we question, disregard, or welcome faith into our lives. The dancing showed interaction between manual work and play, belief and rebellion, and childhood naivety and the adult burden of knowledge.
Taking Hold, choreographed by Cole in collaboration with the company, began with a strong diagonal light along which the dancers were advancing, commanding immediate strength and intention. The dancers held an intense focus, falling to the ground and helping each other up again as they seemed to be struggling to reach a destination. The music—a plucked-bass beat with a strong cello line—emphasized the intensity and painted the setting like a film score. This piece highlighted the company’s physicality and athleticism, and as the dancers seemed to persevere on toward the thing that kept them going, they dived into the ground, suddenly leapt into a partner’s arms, and lifted fellow dancers off the ground. The unique movement juxtaposed curved spines and seamless fluidity with forceful, angled, swift arm movements, and I became aware of the feminine strength and grace of this company of all women. Much of the interaction between dancers was fleeting—the appearance of a dancer in another’s arms, or a sudden connection where one body was encouraged to change direction or carry on—there was a moment, however, when one dancer put her hand on a fallen dancer’s back, and I was struck by the tender stillness. The company embodied perseverance, and they seemed to say that despite any struggle encountered on this journey, they still had each other.
The final piece was a clever interplay between comedy and serious reflection. Entitled, IMe, co-choreographed by Margi Cole and celebrated Chicago choreographer Jeff Hancock (in collaboration with the dancers), it served to comment on our self-conscious tendencies, especially in today’s age of technology, to constantly observe ourselves and tweak or recreate our identities. Two mirrors cut from reflective foil were placed on the stage, and the piece opened with three women observing and admiring their reflections while changing poses. The dancers wore pedestrian clothes, and each of their T-shirts featured a cutout cartoon avatar that resembled their own image. The scene at the mirror introduced the work’s style of movement, and as more dancers entered, their quirky movement utilized this twisting and posing. Some dancers also spoke text while simultaneously gesturing, spiraling and quickly falling in and out of the ground. They told stories regarding identity and the self, such as google-searching yourself, curiosity about that other “me,” and creating a doppelgänger-like identity. Hancock’s recorded voice narrated a comedic love letter to himself while two women mirrored each other’s movement and fell in and out of grasp. Hancock later read a witty, narcissistic response while two dancers fought viciously to steal the other’s avatar image on their shirts, personifying identity theft.
The Dance COLEctive is an established company that pushes traditional boundaries of modern dance while harnessing a unique physical and theatrical aesthetic.
The Dance COLEctive will present their concluding performance of the season on May 21-23 at Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield.