(I don’t review work in-progress unless it’s been approved by the artist. I got the go-ahead, however, for the following write-up on a showing held last Saturday, May 30.)
Underlining with a giant Sharpie the diversity of work in Chicago’s dance scene, Ginger Krebs’ in-progress Rehearsals for Becoming Gods is unique the way the Sears — er, Willis — Tower is tall. Set specific to Epiphany Episcopal’s second-floor chapel, it feels not like designed movement taking place in a room but how a quintet behaves because of the space they’re in. The most immediately-noticeable example is a sheet of taut, clear plastic that drops the dancers’ ceiling to about four feet off the floor, forcing a movement vocabulary that disallows standing upright. It’s a bold constraint and, it turns out, a highly productive one. Early into the work and without much ado, dancer Carole McCurdy climbs out one of the room’s dormer windows and spends a significant amount of the piece out on the church’s roof, pacing and jogging, intermittently visible through the glass.
It reminds me of a piece I read in Harper’s a few years ago: Challenged with making an installation piece, an artists’ collective in Brooklyn took the room itself as their subject, moving into the museum for a month and rebooting its history. Documenting every occurrence obsessively, the group turned the gallery into a hall of mirrors, papering its walls with photos of everything that had happened within it. At one point a wall was destroyed with a sledge (the museum, whichever it was, was honorably accomodating) and a breakaway faction of the collective climbed through the building’s bowels up onto the roof and painted a huge message and phone number on it for passengers in planes coming to and from nearby JFK. Krebs’ piece has some of that feeling, not “site-specific” simple code for “not in a theater,” but sincerely, indelibly specific to the space.
The five dancers (Andy Braddock, José Hernandez, McCurdy, Adam Rose and Annie Rudnik) have at their disposal some well-chosen items. Cushioned metal stools on wheels call to mind the doctors’ offices of a previous generation, specifically in the racket their casters make whizzing around on the room’s crazy-quilt linoleum floor. There are also a set of plush costume pieces (designed by Krebs) with straps that allow them to be worn on the body. Amorphous, simple shapes in reds and pinks, they’re the internal organs of a cartoon dinosaur, fanny packs shaped like pork chops and wax lips. Like many of Rehearsals‘ movements, they’re inherently funny without having any clear referent. There’s no joke here to “get,” only the residue of a release into laughter.
Sitting across the see-saw from this whimsy, however, is a frowning, obese figure of fatigue, defeat and frustration. As opposed to the dogged pursuit of perfection and the ultimate that usually characterizes choreographed dance, here Krebs’ five dancers seem at times barely motivated to attempt something guaranteed to fail. When, late in the work, the men line up balanced prone on their stools with their legs hemmed in by navy sleeping bags, they push off to careen toward the audience like a trio of less-than-Supermen, coasting to a halt before falling onto the floor before us, fish out of water suffering from a sugar crash. They then hobble up, go back and do it again.
There’s only a smattering of music throughout Rehearsals, but it’s all thoughtfully-chosen and effective in complement to the fascinating symphony of clatter that these barefoot dancers and their props make. Even something I know well, CocoRosie’s “K-Hole,” was transformed by its usage, becoming a sort of climactic solo for Rudnik, a tap routine channeling the pure joy and release of standing upright in a confining universe. Like its title suggests, Rehearsals for Becoming Gods is about effort and optimism in the face of obstacles and Murphy’s Law. Krebs has expertly pulled enough specificity out of the picture for the pure feel of these universal emotions to hang in the air. It’s still in-progress, and will no doubt continue to evolve ahead of its proper premiere, but it already succeeds at many of its goals. Fatigue and failure may haunt our daily struggles, but they’re no match for an artist with something to say.