Last week at Links Hall (at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.), Mikey Rioux and his team of collaborators presented the much anticipated, The Sho: Filthy/Mockingbird. Attending on Saturday, October 19th, the only problem with reviewing this show is that I feel, after reading some of his other reviews, that with the intended improvisational nature of the show, I probably experienced a much different Sho than that of any other audience member who atteneded on any other night. This is the danger, and the thrill, of presenting a fully improvised show as a "finished" work. It is anything but routine...
Props to Rioux though, for introducing himself and explaining his practice at the beginning of Saturday's show. It seems that he really took some of his critical press, and perhaps some discussions that had opened after the previous night's show to heart. In Chicago's dance temperature right now, it is an important skill for Rioux to have demonstrated. His ability to step back and re-adjust his structure, even after the show had officially opened shows his commitment to a meaningful discourse around work created in this community.
Rioux started by explaining that Saturday's show would try some new things. This address at the beginning of the show carried through to present some very warm, very human interactions between the dancers. Dancers held each other by the neck, gazed into each other's eyes, and touched each other with care, making the audience feel right at home in witnessing such tender interactions; a contradication to, what according to press, had been a cold, disconnected show on Friday. The audience for Saturday's show was a good mix of dance community regulars and family members and they seemed excited to jump in to respond rambunctiously to Rioux's opening. As the show fell into a groove, however, the vibe-y feeling created by the dancers' experiments, in conjunction with lighting by Dan Preble, sound by Ian Huddleston, and set design by John Holt wore off quickly as it became obvious that this show was indeed, a full two hours of exercises in improvisation. While strong in its intention to push boundaries, it perhaps fell short of actually accomplishing anything of meaning as moments emerged that could have climaxed into breathtaking manifestations fizzled into missed connections, leaving audience frustrated at the lack of fruition. While improvisations (and long ones, at that) are always important tools, they did read as slightly self-indulgent as the two hours wore on and the tone and mood of the work stayed pretty much the same, the whole time; dancers focusing on themselves, finding new artistic depths, with, you guessed it, themselves, leaving audience feeling left by the end, and confused after such an inviting opening. The captive audience model for a show of this nature was perhaps Rioux's key problem, as audience felt trapped, assigned to watching what seemed too long an exercise. I felt my thoughts wandering to other things after intermission when the group launched into their longest set of the same exercise. A form in which audience had the agency to wander out of the experience, refresh, and rejoin may have served the work better.
"If you can find a loop that repeats without becoming redundant, you can fall into a different time and space."-William Basinki.
This quote, included in the program, illustrates the importance of the experience for the dancers within The Sho, but does not translate to the experience had by captive viewers.
All in all, The Sho was a brilliant combination of colors, sets, ideas, and performances by an incredibly talented line-up. Rioux has a keen eye with a distintive style that manifests in his choices for collaborators. I'd see it again, but I challenge Rioux to push even harder, perhaps sticking with the improvisational scores that he's already set in place but taking a foray into crafting some new rules, new guidelines, or sections of the piece so as to push the improvisations into new spaces throughout the work. Though this show wasn't perhaps the raving success that I (and everyone) had hoped for Rioux, I believe he's just short, and do hope he'll keep at it.