Bob Eisen is back. The last time the seventy-six-year-old co-founder of Links Hall danced in Chicago was 2019, to a capacity crowd gathered for the small and stalwart theater’s fortieth anniversary. Eisen has lived between New York and Russia since the turn of the millennium, and February 10-11 he returns to Links along with a handful of Chicago artists in “ON GO ING,” a program that again honors the longevity and experimental spirit of the venue—and, Eisen suggests with humor and humility, himself.
“The title was my idea,” Eisen says in a phone interview. “I have no business continuing to do this, but I keep going on and Links Hall is ongoing.” He will reprise a short solo and perform in a new quartet with Joanne Barrett, Ayako Kato and Patrick Burns. The evening also includes works by Abra Johnson of Honey Pot Performance, Jennifer Monson and Zachary Nicol.
As part of the fortieth-anniversary festivities, Eisen wrote a reflection on Links’ history and mission that was composed mostly of questions. I posed one of these questions back to him, asking the role and purpose of the artist presenting work at Links Hall in 2023. He avoided any hint of pomposity in his reply. “I think I wrote then, what does Links Hall have to do with the majority of people going up and down Western Avenue on the bus?” (He had.) “We’re not changing the world. It’s a small organization, but it’s a community and it’s a place people can go, and I think that’s important.”
It is important. Links is a longstanding oasis for the relatively small but loyal audience of adventurous or in-process or challenging or out-there live performances, and to the artists who create them. Eisen notes how the dance field has changed since he, Carol Bobrow and Charlie Vernon opened the original Links Hall in Wrigleyville in 1978. That it seems to him younger artists are making dances about weighty or complex topics—a trend he supports but doesn’t personally identify with. As he reflects, he again falls into posing questions rather than answering them. “I can’t quite go there,” he says. “I struggle with this stuff. I think, ‘What am I going to do? I’m basically a white, straight, privileged male. What am I going to make up a dance about?’ It’s a reasonable question, wouldn’t you say?”
It certainly is and Eisen did answer it, if indirectly and no doubt temporarily. I ask him about the role of play in his dances—the Tribune’s critic safely promises the show will include “track pants, sneakers and handstands”—Eisen says that he now includes a lot of humor in his work. “I want people to not be sitting there thinking ‘I could have stayed home and read this book or watched this movie.’ I just want people to have a good time. It always has been sort of tongue-in-cheek and absurdist in its way. It’s just who I am.”
“ON GO ING” at Links Hall, 3111 North Western, Friday and Saturday, February 10 and 11 at 7pm. $15-$40. Tickets at linkshall.org.