In an expansive warehouse with white-painted brick walls and concrete floors, Visceral Dance guides a group of spectators, seated in a single row around three walls, on a journey from darkness to light. The space, located in an industrial stretch at Rockwell and the River, is an integral character in “TAKE,” Nick Pupillo’s new evening-length dance. It, too, transforms over the course of the performance, through expected elements like lighting changes and a few spare design elements, yes, but imparted more through the touch of the dancers and the shifting perspective of the audience.
The first half of “TAKE” is, as the French say, hypercool. The dancers are clad in black—mesh, corsets, long coats, dust showing on their black boots and sneakers—dancing to Trent Reznor in an effective combo of smoke machine and stark, floor-level spotlights. (The scene gave me a nostalgic twinge for dance parties in Detroit two decades ago.) Duets, trios and quartets show off the impressive technical skill and individual strengths of the company, although the most memorable sections are with full ensemble. Pupillo choreographs big, crowd-pleasing group sections peppered with ripples, group lifts and punchy moments of unison.
The mood darkens when the ensemble reenters with black hoods pulled over their heads and pace the perimeter. This turns out to be the darkness before the dawn. A musical interlude with cellist Desiree Miller signals a change that unfolds over the final twenty minutes of the piece. External and internal armor fall away—not without twitches of discomfort—and ultimately the dancers, liberated, invite the audience to close the small gaps between themselves and the performance and open themselves up to a sense of unabashed wonder.
This is not easy to do well, especially for companies with a focus on ballet and contemporary technique, itself an armor, but Pupillo and his dancers allow for the spaciousness and quiet required for authentic connection between performer and audience. I was a smidge choked up by the final moments of the piece and the audience burst into enthusiastic, whooping applause at the end. “TAKE” is not only a showcase for the talents of a gifted ensemble, but also of an experimental spirit, a willingness to place a company that regularly performs on the Harris stage in more raw and vulnerable contexts. (Sharon Hoyer)
At The Space on Rockwell, 3031 North Rockwell, November 1-9 at 8pm and November 10 at 8pm and 10pm. Suggested donation.