Posted by: trailerpilot | 05:18::2009

Cindy Brandle Dance Company

CBDC dancer Kendra Hanlon Foss. Photo by Kat Fitzgerald.

CBDC dancer Kendra Hanlon Foss. Photo by Kat Fitzgerald.

Cindy Brandle premiered an evening-length work this past weekend at Ruth Page, and while I couldn’t attend either performance I was able to see a dress rehearsal Thursday, which went on uninterrupted and, as far as I could tell, as intended. I’m not enormously familiar with Brandle’s dance; I’ve seen a few pieces at Hamlin Park Fieldhouse (where she’s Artist-in-Residence with the Chicago Moving Company) and excerpts in festival settings. Searching for SuperGirl was far more evolved than any of those.

Bookended by short videos by Carl Wiedemann (camera) and Atalee Judy (editing) and prologued by also-singer/songwriter Brandle on acoustic guitar, it’s a gentle slide into her world and, having had a typically-harried day, I was grateful for the transition. While her songs weren’t to my taste, she has a great voice, deep and full with a slight rasp on it, and can stand as proud on her skills as a musician as she is established as a choreographer. The videos show her and her young daughter, Akasha, holding hands and walking through the woods (the gorgeous Caldwell Woods Forest Preserve between 90 and 94). There’s a kind of Renaissance flair to Brandle’s style, a what you might call “soft-goth” affinity for burgundy, velvet, and dark (although effective and appropriate) lighting by Sarah Lackner. Carrying with her onstage a large red album, Brandle sets her Search as a look back, an assessment of her own past spurred by witnessing her daughter’s growth. The all-female ensemble of eight dancers are less a community of secondary characters than a way to amplify Brandle’s journey enough to fill the stage space; there’s nothing wrong with this choice. Reading from the book, it seemed like Brandle sought to initiate a narrative path that could be picked up by the choreography once the text fell away. However, I couldn’t follow through the break and rather found myself suddenly watching ensemble dance after ensemble dance that could’ve been associated with any number of contexts. Brandle appears and disappears within the dancers’ arrangements — the reference to her in the woods is clear and effective, without relegating her company members to being “dancing trees.” In fact, there’s been a big leap in her movement vocabulary since my last exposure to her choreography: Less generic and boilerplate, the combination of floorwork and weighted, gestural standing phrases is on its way to becoming a genuinely unique voice. Even though I was in and out of being able to find connections between movement and statement, that the movement was engaging to watch on its own was enough to hold my attention.

During a good part of the piece’s middle, laundry lines are strung across the stage holding garments up to (presumably) dry. Although there was care and deliberateness with how they were brought in and out, and a distinct poignancy with which Brandle roamed the floor pulling fabric off the line, its indelible associations with tedium and the trap of domesticity were discordant with the soft-goth otherworldliness of the dance’s other scenes. Played up for contrast, this could have worked, but in attempting to blend it into preceding and following tableaux, meaning was robbed from both. Other things come out on the line as well, including black masks and a cape, which Brandle uses to transform into a hero, crusader, or vigilante. Here too, though, a lack of clarity handicaps the effect: There are big differences between these three things, and without movement that shows me which I’m supposed to be looking at I’m stuck at a fork in the road without a map to continue.

On the other hand, Brandle’s working relationship with composer Barry Bennett is a great match: Bennett, a multi-instrumentalist and all-around-town accompanist for modern dance classes, took his skills at improvisation and layering and built them up with studio tools, creating a Peter Gabriel-esque soundscape of moody beats and idiosyncratic atmospherics that fits Brandle’s choreography like a glove. In Searching‘s final scenes, Bennett’s music plays a key role in providing a satisfying resolution to a work that unfortunately doesn’t quite earn it. Cindy Brandle is finding her way, though, with other artists who can help flesh out and give shape to her ideas; assuming this collaborative approach continues, and given evidence of new directions in her movement research, she could be a catalyst for some truly satisfying and unique theatrical landscapes in the future.

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Responses

  1. […] Brandle Dance Company, fresh off its recent full-length at Ruth Page, is poised to maximize its familiarity with Hamlin’s theater by offering a space-specific […]


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