Beginning with the night's host, the notorious Mattrick Swayze and his "Power of Cheer" cohorts, this year's "Duets For My Valentine", curated by host company, Chicago Dance Crash has a little bit of everything. Humor in a slightly quirky, definitely risque way ushers in the otherwise uneventful first act. Mattrick Swayze and his sidekicks start it off with some ever hilarious Harry Potter references, a few pop culture punches, and a finale of burlesque-esque surprise. Moving forward in the first act, however, the audience is rather underwhelmed until Visceral Dance Center brings, "A Place We Were", danced and choreographed by Katie Miller, Renae Miyashiro, and Nick Pupillo, respectively. Flowing costumes, strong lines of dancers, emotive expression without an overly precious feel, and music composed by Max Richter all combine to concoct the first authentically felt emotion of the evening.
The first act ends with another duet, this time by C5 Create With No Limits and dancers Katie Steffenhagen and Ethan Kirschbaum (appearing courtesy of River North Chicago). The dance by choreographer Jeremy Plummer is visually addictive as Steffenhagen employs aerial skills to fly above Kirschbaum the entire time. Though interesting to watch, the flight takes focus away from the exquisite artistry of Kirschbaum, revealed in the beginning of the piece. The audience is left with an unresolved desire to see more of Kirschbaum in his cherry red pants before the lights come up on Steffenhagen.
The night progresses with more from Mattrick Swayze, keeping the mood light. Beginning this act is "FRISK" by Katie Graves and Matthew McMunn with musician Sophie Webber on stage performing work by composer Mark Summer. Graves and McMunn create dynamic energy on stage with their tight and engergetic partnering skills and their recognizable style of strong and physical grace. The piece maintains the intimacy felt in last year's "Fasten to the Bottom" (Also choreographed and performed by Graves and McMunn) while bringing a new and electric static to the table.
Up next is Leopold Group presenting an intoxicating combination of spoken word and emotional fragility by Lizzie Leopold in collaboration with Joshua Paul, and BrickHeadZ bringing a "scoot to the edge of your seat" thriller with masterfully mixed music by DJ Smoku.
Jessie Young presents her ongoing work "ASHleigh" as a stark and potent piece that leaves viewers with images strong in vividity as dancer Josh Anderson points a stage light directly at Sarah Mitchell while she seems to melt to the ground in a continuous spasm, encompassing her body. Offensive gestures combine with strong physical dedication to leave the audience wanting more explanation from Young as the piece fades to a close (And more explanation they'll get. Keep your eyes peeled for more of Young's work at this year's THAW, and a later engagement at Links Hall).
The night wraps up with the overly virtuosic Chicago Dance Crash in an untitled work highlighting dancer Mary Tarpley's incredible stage presence and leaving couples swooning for more duets. If "Duets" didn't warm up your Valentine's weekend this year, be sure to catch it next year for a spicy pot-purri of Chicago's dance scene.