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Stunning Visceral Dance Chicago Fall Engagement @Harris Theater

Stunning Visceral Dance Chicago “Fall Engagement” @ Harris Theater

Dance Review by Rebecca Curl, October 2, 2016

4 out of 4 stars

Atlas by Nick Pupillo. Photo by: Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth

Back for their Fall engagement at Harris Theater, Visceral Dance Chicago has once again brought their immense talent and endless creativity to the Chicago arts community. By weaving innovative movement with conceptually bold subject matter, founder and Artistic Director Nick Pupillo and his company have opened a door for dance to further reflect the human condition and what it truly means to be alive.

Visceral Dance Chicago continues to pour their heart and soul into each performance, making their passion and energy contagious. Their art expresses more through movement than many can do through the use of language and such talent is a truly beautiful sight. It is not every day that one is able to witness artists exploring and expressing their passions with as much joy and vitality as the members of Visceral Dance Chicago.

Their Fall Engagement included two world premieres: Atlas by Artistic Director Nick Pupillo and tethered by LA-based choreographer Erica Sobol, along with audience favorite Ruff Celts by Marguerite Donlon and Pupillo’s electric piece, Vital. Atlas, set to music by The Turin String Quartet, explores the notion that we are all faced with an array of expectations to meet throughout our lives and that though these expectations may often seem to be nothing more than a burden, there is so much beauty to be found in our own passionate struggle to obtain all that we need and desire. Though “the weight of the heavens [are often felt] upon one’s shoulders,” we are reminded through Pupillo’s work that there is a certain elegance and grace that stems from pursuing and standing for our beliefs. Without struggle and often burdening responsibilities, there is no life, and as Pupillo demonstrates through Atlas, these struggles and burdens are all a part of our journey. At the end of the day, they are what make us truly alive.

Adding to the overall beauty of Atlas was Nathan Tomlinson’s lighting design. Tomlinson’s ability to light the artists’ bodies is extraordinary. Each and every angle is executed perfectly, bathing the stage and its dancers in the most phenomenal light. Tomlinson’s attention to shadows is particularly striking during this piece, as his lighting works to guide audience members on their journey towards understanding the often difficult, yet beautiful world we call ours.

Erica Sobol’s tethered was a visual explosion of color, light, and movement as audience members watched the emotional rise and fall of the artists. Maggie Jarecki’s costume designs are the first aspect of Sobol’s piece to strike your attention as the curtain goes up; each artist stands in front of a tall floral wall in a costume made of the same pattern and fabric. Instantly, one is struck with the idea that some force is indeed tethering these artists to these walls; whether or not they wish to be a part of the walls, they are one with them. One must look closely at them to even identify the artists at all, which speaks to the manner in which we can often become lost in our own pain and suffering as we try to navigate the complicated journey of our lives. Sobol shows us through both fluid and highly expressive movements that life is a constant battle to overcome that which holds us back. She expresses our inherent vulnerability as we do our best to explore our surroundings without risking too much; tethered portrays the complex web that is the human condition and allows audience members to delve into raw, unbridled pain and emotion.

Marguerite Donlon’s Ruff Celts continues to be one of the company’s most vivacious and high-impact pieces as it showcases not only the tremendous talent of the artists, but also their quirky and unique personalities. Donlon’s utilization of a mixed score of contemporary Irish and German composers adds an edgy flair to her dynamic piece. Her choice to place the artists in traditional neck ruffs and kilts creates a unique juxtaposition that helps illustrate the collision of different worlds meeting in one place. A piece inspired by the personalities of the dancers themselves, Donlon’s Ruff Celts brings a light-hearted and strong-spirited air to the stage.

Concluding the program was Artistic Director Nick Pupillo’s Vital. With the help of percussionist Peter Ferry, Pupillo fills the stage with undeniable energy as he takes his dancers on an exploration of our inherent need for action and vitality. Through raw, dynamic movements and intense percussion, the artists forge their own paths as they embark on their journey of self-discovery through risk and fearless creation. Marguerite Donlon’s installation brings its own energy to the stage as it acts as a sort of conductor of vivacity, as well as a reminder of the limitless nature of the paths we choose to embark upon in life. Pupillo teaches his audiences through Vital that in order to flourish, we must be willing to open ourselves up to the possibilities before us, no matter the fear that lies before them.

As Visceral Dance Chicago enters their fourth season, it is clear that their impact on the Chicago arts community has been wildly successful. With each new piece added to their repertoire, Pupillo and his company continue to grow and create in ways that will astonish their audiences. I am certain this remarkable company will be a staple in the Chicago arts scene for years to come.

For more information on Visceral Dance Chicago and their upcoming performances and classes, please visit the company’s website: Please visit for more information on the Chicago arts community.

Written as a part of Chicago Stage Standard.

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