“I would say the platform itself has its own experience outside of making dances,” says Carrie Hanson, artistic director of The Seldoms, speaking about the company’s ongoing Toolbox project. “For me, the interest is the process of the dialogue with an artist from a different discipline and less the outcome.”
The Seldoms share the process and outcomes of four Toolbox projects now through November 3 at the Hyde Park Art Center, in celebration of the company’s twentieth anniversary. Hanson, along with company members Damon Green, Dee Alba and Sarah Gonsiorowski developed dances inspired by the creative practices of sculptor Edra Soto, sound artist Sadie Woods, painter Jackie Kazarian and fiber artist Jacqueline Surdell. Each dancer interviewed and studied the studio practice of their partner, finding a word to describe an aspect of their practice that served as a tool, or “tactic” for choreography. Short documentaries by Steven Rosofsky about the making of each company member’s solo play during gallery hours on small screens beside the corresponding pieces. Performances of all four short dances (total run time: thirty minutes) take place weekly in the space over the course of six weeks, each followed by an artist talk between rotating sets of collaborators.
I attended the October 6 performance, the second in the series. Attendees are directed which way to face for each dance, starting with Green’s solo inspired by composer and DJ Woods’ use of splicing. Starting from the floor, Green’s arms snaked forward and back, gestures rippling through his spine to the crown of his head, eventually pulling him to his feet, then winding back down to the floor to finish as he began. In the post-performance talk, Green said he was developing a method of “splicing” together his movement practices as both a modern dancer and voguer. Tones of vogueing give a distinct shape and texture to his solo—the fluid extension of arms lead by the hands, bold turns of the head—they blend seamlessly into the overall modern vocabulary of the dance.
This is contrasted to Dee Alba’s response to Jackie Kazarian’s large-scale paintings, which use masking techniques to create sharp edges between brushstroke swirls, stripes, drips and fields of color. Alba’s solo, danced by Maggie Vannucci, incorporates abrupt stops, changes of direction and interruptions of flow as a movement interpretation of masking. The visual rhythms of Kazarian’s paintings are also clearly present in sweeping arcs and slicing limbs. Music for Alba’s piece was provided by Sima Cunningham, who will accompany live for the October 20 performance.
Gonsiorowski’s solo, performed the night I attended by Haley Marcin, is a muscular piece to a driving score by Renee Baker of the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project: fitting for Jacqueline Surdell’s monumental wall sculpture and industrial-looking floor sculpture. Surdell’s wall-mounted “Spoken For” is twenty-two-feet tall but might as well be forty: a totem knotted from survival cord, hung with steel chains, a meat hook, and weighted by kettlebells. “Spool I” sits nearby: A giant, wheel-like steel frame wrapped in battle ropes. Gonsiorwoski’s tactic was “knot,” though the weight and scale of the materials clearly extended through Marcin’s body as well—a testosterone-fueled performance and surroundings, all elements of which were made by women.
Hanson’s “Bower Dance” is a response to Edra Soto’s concrete structure “Screenhouse,” installed in Millennium Park. The Seldoms performed “Bower Dance” in and around “Screenhouse” this summer. For the gallery show, videos of the Millennium Park performance by Liviu Pasare, taken from four angles, are projected on the second-story facade of the Hyde Park Art Center. The images are visible from the street and within the gallery. The four company members dance a linear adaptation of the piece on the catwalk in front of the side-by-side videos, which Hanson describes as “unfolding” Soto’s structure. The layering of live dancers performing in front of multiple versions of themselves at different scales and timings is simultaneously mesmerizing and marvelously disorienting.
Would an audience member who wasn’t told the tactic informing each of these dances pick up on them? Probably not. Does it matter? Not in the slightest. And Hanson says that it’s really beside the point. The cross-disciplinary dialogue and resulting tactic is a way to break old choreographic habits and see with new eyes. It also winds up being an opportunity for the dance makers to do a close reading on the process of another artist. Hanson tells me that when Surdell first viewed Gonsiorowski’s solo she said, “Wow, I feel so seen.”
The Seldoms’ “Toolbox @ Twenty” at Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell. Performances and artist talks Saturday, October 15 at 1pm, Thursday, October 20 at 6pm and Thursday, November 3 at 6pm. Free. Reservations at hydeparkart.org.