American Dance Institute, Rockville, MD
October 2, 2015
On an unusually cold and rainy early October evening, Minneapolis-based Chris Schlichting, the first recipient of American Dance Institute’s Solange MacArthur Award for New Choreography, presented Stripe Tease.
The hour-long choreographic work delivers at least part of what its title promises – an abundance of stripes. Lines of bright color and tinsel-like strips of silver, reminiscent of Christmas wrapping paper, unfurl upward on the back wall of the stage. The visual design and installation by Jennifer Davis also includes a pair of large florescent tigers on the side walls that compliment the six dancers and live 3-person band who wear all black. As for the tease, well, no items of clothing come off. The dancers seem introspective. They move with both nonchalance and pointed purpose. A handful of poses could have been lifted from vintage movies or magazine ads. A wrist slowly slides across the forehead or creeps up a dancer’s own side. There exists no more sexiness than a brief coy look.
Although earplugs were offered to patrons along with a warning that the music may be loud, like the lack of tease in the dancing, the music lacks bona fide bang (the soles of my feet vibrated just once or twice). If the somewhat subdued thrumming drum and bass are the heartbeat of Stripe Tease, then the dancers are the whoosh of circulating blood. In addition to the insistent music, much of the rhythm and repetition in the work comes through circling arms and weaving hands. Gathering momentum, arms of swish back and forth like tree limbs in a breeze. Hands become dueling birds, emphatically criss-crossing. When they’re not busy being birds, hands wipe right and left, like an exercise out of the film The Karate Kid or factory workers twisting knobs. Sometimes the dancers spin like euphoric children with arms halfway extended, casually bent at the elbow, and sometimes they walk slowly, as if models on a catwalk. At one point a single dancer traces the edges of the stage, walking with an arm outstretched as if she is about to pull back a curtain to unveil a prize.
In the work’s most successful moments, one can get lost in an intoxicating whirl of bodies and patterns. In various groupings the dancers mirror each other and find surprising synchronies. Dancers draw close then lyrically peel away from each other only to turn back again. Stripe Tease reaches its apex as the tortuous trios and quartets descend into a mad jumble. The dancers are pushed toward exhaustion, their bodies shining like the glittery wallpaper behind them.
While I appreciated many moments in Stripe Tease, I longed for more pauses and more dynamic changes in the music and movement. Putting on the breaks more frequently would allow the the audience and dancers extra room to breathe.