‘Su­perStrip’ a union of dance, satire

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINMENT - HEDY WEISS Email: hweiss@sun­times.com

Ju­lia Rhoads is a chore­og­ra­pher with all the in­stincts of a born satirist.

If you were to draw a comic strip about her, she would be in a re­hearsal stu­dio, dressed in sweats, sur­rounded by dancers. And the bub­ble above her head might read: “OK, let’s start with a jump, but, in line with our non­profit mis­sion state­ment, I need you to in­vest that jump with all the out­reach you can pos­si­bly muster.”

It’s not that Rhoads— whose 15-year-old com­pany, Lucky Plush Pro­duc­tions, premiered her col­lab­o­ra­tive 85-minute, mul­ti­me­dia dance-the­ater work “Trip the Light Fan­tas­tic: The Mak­ing of Su­perStrip” for one night only at the Har­ris The­ater for Mu­sic and Dance on Thurs­day— is cyn­i­cal.

But she is brainy and in­tensely self-aware. And as “Su­perStrip” sug­gests through its mix of zany, of­ten-dead­pan hu­mor and a cer­tain rue­ful­ness, there is a con­stant in­ner com­men­tary work­ing along­side her im­pulse to make dances.

Rhoads— whose com­pany was among 14 Chicago arts or­ga­ni­za­tions to re­ceive a MacArthur Foun­da­tion Award for Cre­ative and Ef­fec­tive In­sti­tu­tions last month— un­der­stands she is part of a crazy tilt­ing-at-wind­mills pro­fes­sion. At the same time, she is keenly at­tuned to the world be­yond the dance stu­dio. So even if she can’t do much to change it (be­yond as­sem­bling a pur­pose­fully di­verse group of per­form­ers), she can­not ig­nore it.

And “Su­perStrip” is noth­ing if not an en­cy­clo­pe­dic look at ev­ery­thing from cli­mate change and eco-con­scious­ness, to the en­trenched na­ture of hi­er­ar­chi­cal so­ci­ety, the fem­i­nist mind­set and the power of the col­lec­tive ver­sus the in­di­vid­ual. It also win­ningly slices through all the cliches of con­tem­po­rary dance­mak­ing jar­gon and grant pro­posal lan­guage.

The drolly un­der­stated So journer Wright serves as on stage me­dia per­former, fo­cus­ing the video cam­era, com­muning with her lap­top and re­cap­ping the var­i­ous se­quences of de­vised move­ment and dis­cus­sions she has taped as the dance is “be­ing made” be­fore our eyes. Process is cru­cial to Rhoads.

Mean­while, seven dancers don the tat­tered rem­nants of the washed-up comic-book su­per­heros they once were and try to em­bark on a new mis­sion as mem­bers of a think tank for do-good­ers. As it hap­pens, they ap­pear to be or­di­nary dancers try­ing to tap the su­per­heros within them­selves in or­der to do bat­tle with “a world where in­jus­tice pre­vails and the forces of evil are too com­plex for most well-in­ten­tioned he­roes to deal with.”

The work, com­mis­sioned by the Har­ris The­ater and the Pamela Crutch­field Dance Fund, is a tongue-in-cheek chron­i­cle of how each seg­ment in the piece is de­vised. We meet the seven char­ac­ters and watch as their egos and per­sonal mo­ti­va­tions col­lide in what is far from a kum­baya en­vi­ron­ment.

There is Spring­ster, who wants to fly again (an ideal name for Cuban-born Michel Ro­driguez Cin­tra, who has the fleet moves of a gym­nast and is im­mense fun to watch), and Pro­fes­sor Vi­sionne (El­iz­a­beth Luse), who is try­ing to re­gain her ex­cep­tional sight, and The Big Liber­jin­ski (Ben­jamin Wardell), part Lib­er­ace, part Ni­jin­sky, who is more soloist than col­lec­tivist in tem­per­a­ment. There is Rapid Glitch (Daniel Gib­son), the hip­ster who moves to his own beat; Mmm (Melinda Jean My­ers), a re­cent mother con­vinced her breast milk can save the world from hunger; and Shadow (Marc Macaranas), who fan­cies him­self the con­trol­ling force of the group. Gen­tly chid­ing them all into some co­he­sion is Sparky Light step (the spot-on Meghann Wilkinson), who clearly is Rhoads’ comic al­ter ego.

The most price­less and re­veal­ing mo­ment in the show is an ex­per­i­ment in hi­er­ar­chy, as the dancers are asked to line them­selves up in or­der of most to least pow­er­ful. The jock­ey­ing among men and women and those of dif­fer­ent eth­nic back­grounds, education lev­els and im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus comes into play in the sim­plest, most telling, laugh­ter-in­duc­ing ways.

“Su­perStrip” would ben­e­fit from amore eye-pop­ping fi­nal dance. But maybe in its cur­rent form it’s meant to be a re­minder that th­ese are hu­mans, and their su­per­hero dreams are just what gets them through the day.

Fol­low Hedy Weiss on Twit­ter: @HedyWeis­sCritic


A scene from the Lucky Plush Pro­duc­tions dance-theater piece “Trip the Light Fan­tas­tic: The Mak­ing of Su­perStrip.”

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