For many performers and artists, an empty theater is the epitome of comfort. It is a place for reflection, growth, and transformation. An empty theater holds the anticipation of what is to come. It holds incredible fear, countless memory, and endless possibility. If it is these feelings that you're after, look no further. The Dance COLEctive's "Free[Bound]" does an exemplary job of evoking the "empty theater feeling" while the seats are to the contrary, quite full of audience members.
Beginning with Cole's in orderly fashion, a collaboration with Philip Elson (Sound Maverick), and Atalee Judy (Costume Extraordinaire), the feel is cold, and presents the harsh reality of dark, cavernous spaces. Judy's whimsical costumes evoke a feminine "urban briefcase" look while dancers seem to walk a fine edge along the cold, exposed brick wall at the back of the stage. Cole creates a strange, uncomfortable commute to a workplace in an alternate universe where interpersonal interaction is strictly prohibited. Dancers share weight, pass each other, and even physically prohibit one another's movements, all while maintaining an air of absolute solitude, hardly noticing the other people in the space.
If the cold atmosphere of in orderly fashion hasn't made you forget that there is a room full of people surrounding you, perhaps Molly Shanahan's Leaving and Wanting will. Leaving and Wanting takes the intimate theater space of Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave) and makes it seem a whole lot larger and a whole lot emptier (warmer though than the previous piece). Cole's stunning performance not only shows her own vulnerability, but makes her audience find vulnerability in their own cavernous mind space. As if Cole is dancing in a huge empty house, dust particles floating in bright sunlight, but sun not quite bright enough to chase the chill from the bone, the audience is taken through the piece with incredible delicacy and true-to-form Shanahan nuance. Moments of absolute transparency in Cole's performance contrast the sweeping, tumbling Shanahan signature movements in a way that makes feeling alone in the room with Cole something to savor.
After a sobering reality check of intermission, lights, and upbeat music, perhaps you'll remember that you share this space with many other people as the all-consuming emotion of the first act diminishes. Take a deep breath and relax as the full company restages 13, a work that will surely force a full-bellied laugh or two. Company members have expertly developed characters that will have you running down memory lane as the bullies, dorks, and popular girls of your own middle-school days come rushing back.
The Dance COLEctive presents "Free/Bound," its Winter Concert Series, January 17-20, Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago. General admissions is $25, $20 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, click here, or call 773-327-5252. For information visit dancecolective.com.