I’m afraid that neither performer not spectator comes out a hero after watching “Changes,” Chicago Tap Theatre’s “science fiction dance opera” created around a back catalog of songs from rock ‘n’ roll agent provocateur David Bowie, and that several directorial “ch-ch-changes” will have to be made if future CTT concept story shows are to have any significant narrative or emotional impact on their audience. The best dance theater—within the last decade “Contact” and “Movin’ Out” immediately come to mind—requires not only great choreography but also strong direction to effectively convey the entirety of its unspoken narrative: elements such as fluid scene changes, cohesive song transitions and strong musical buttons help and are basic elements sorely missing from the muddled staging here. Story-wise, about all that I picked up was a hint of intergalactic romance between Major Tom (a bland performance by tentative tap dancer Peter Hammer) and a female creature of another race, and an anticlimactic battle between Bowie’s time traveler and the bad guy in “Changes.” Fashioned to look like a cross between an S&M leather daddy and Max Von Sydow’s Ming the Merciless from the 1980 movie “Flash Gordon,” CTT artistic director Mark Yonally’s performance as the interplanetary tyrant at least infuses the piece with a brief camp appeal. But this is about the tap dancing, and although Yonally’s furious footwork and port de bras arm work (sometimes in interesting counterpoint) for the eight-member corps of female space oddities is technically demanding and interesting to watch, without a story or characters to hook you in, it all very quickly becomes monotonous and exhausting. Worse, a weak sound system renders Bowie’s lyrics inaudible so there is never a way of knowing if Yonally’s steps have found the emotional layers and textures of the music. Ground Control to the talented Mr. Yonally: next year, concentrate on the choreography and collaborate with a director on the rest. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, (312)902-1500. Fri-Sat 8pm/Sun 3pm. $15-$25. Through July 30.