Run through the abstractor of movement composition, not much of The Space/Movement Project‘s Safety in Numbers‘ purported questioning of the nature of urban community shows presence in the finished work. I’m okay with that.
What’s clear is that, whatever the subject, the dancers and creative collaborators of TS/MP found a well of inspiration deep enough to give an hour-long work in five parts richly-varied vocabulary and a sense of completion. Safety in Numbers stops short of having an arc as a whole, but the individual, subtitled sections cohere into distinct environments at the same time they belong together (call it an anthology somewhat inspired by belonging). There are also transitioning scenes (credited to Megan Schneeberger) to reprised snippets from the score but, as they’re not clearly tied in content to either preceding or following sections, they feel like filler.
Bucking the Chicago dance scene’s most pervasive trend, TS/MP employs neither text nor performer-generated sound in their work, and only a few brief scenes transpire in silence. Bedrock for Numbers is an original score by Seattle composer Jeff Forrest: Stylistically a perfect match for TS/MP’s supple, released choreography, Forrest’s landscape of gently-reverbby guitar strums, long cello pulls and firefly flashes of piano over percussion is absorbing enough to support the visual action but disciplined enough to preclude dismissal by a reviewer whose tolerance for worse examples in this vein is, in a word, thin. Obviously attuned to these dancers and their movement (this is their second collaboration), Forrest ably channels either the softer side of Kinski or Thomas Newman rocking out, depending on your perspective.
Although each portion of Numbers has a different project manager, claims it was created by a sole voice would’ve raised neither of my eyebrows. The Space/Movement Project seem to have truly found their collective identity — the production aims to express “a common desire for comfort and familiarity” despite differences of origin and, in this regard, it hits the mark. “Simply Vessels,” a duet by Stacy Wolfson for dancers Anne Kasdorf and Chloe Nisbett, skirts reference to Islamism with costumes that include a sort of hijab; there’s room enough in an ambiguous treatment for them to be non-denominational shrouds, but coupled with some later images of wrists locked together as if cuffed it certainly looks as though Wolfson is incompletely processing current events. At one point one dancer looks into the distance with another behind, her face directly above the first’s, their gazes fixed on the same spot. When they reassemble, the dancer behind lets all her weight fold the other in half — once a partner, she has become a burden.
Nothing in Numbers is what I’d call “dark,” but an easier mood definitely suffuses “Hanging Portraits,” a trio for Allyson Esposito, Leah Raffanti and Schneeberger created with Maggie Koller. In matching summery print dresses Empire-waisted with a lilac ribbon, they start by deliberately executing a series of gestures facing one another. The series is repeated right away, faster and with a lighter touch; like an old car finally turning over, it’s enough momentum to get things rolling. Another pleasant trio, “Function,” finds Esposito, Nisbett and Jessie Young in Kasdorf’s world, leapfrogging through almost-synched repetitions of swinging arms and tiny pull-start engines imagined just under the marley.
Finale-by-default “913 Carpenter Street” is arranged such that the dancers are repeatedly grouped into three pairs with one woman out. It’s smart shorthand for the evening’s theme while creating some necessary fore- and background in the ensemble wash. It opens with a procession almost like a fashion show, and for good reason: Collin Bunting created some twenty garments for Numbers and these last comprise a sunny collection of Spring ready-to-wear reminiscent of Jeffrey Sebelia. (Closing out the decade the way Lara Miller opened it, Bunting consistently impresses with the variety of her designs as well as her ability to pump them out by the dozen.) Esposito has directed this full-company dance with wit and calm; it does all the sections the favor of ending things well. I was reminded on multiple occasions of Faye Driscoll‘s work — while “913 Carpenter Street” never quite goes to the same physical extremes, TS/MP here and elsewhere share with Driscoll signals teasingly open to interpretation and a broad, proud use of space.
In sum, Safety in Numbers could have been labeled as about any number of subjects without having much effect on the audience experience. How it’s probably best approached is as a demonstration of how thoughtful composition and solid, sure dancing can be compelling enough in themselves.
Performances remain tonight, Thursday, July 23 and Friday, July 24 at 7:30 pm. Tickets ($15) are available here or by calling (773) 744-0332.