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Review: dropshift dance offers audiences a meditative experience with two collaborative new works in “rejoinder” at Links Hall

By Press


A sense of spatial abstractions hit me as soon as I entered the theater to take in “rejoinder,” the latest work presented by dropshift dance, a collaborative cohort of contemporary artists, founded in 2010 by Andrea Cerniglia. The company focuses on creating abstract artistic works through collaborative processes. True to mission, both works on the program claim no choreographer, only collaborators.

My attention is drawn immediately to the dance floor. For the audience, chairs are arranged in a staggered semicircle configuration. As a seating alternative, there are also three floor mats spread out equidistantly, atop which lay pillows colored ash, brown and burnt orange. Centerstage are two stools, one a tall, skinny nightstand, the other a short, stubby, footstool. They are surrounded by three blankets with unique designs — one has fenceposts floating high above patches of green and brown farmland, another shows disembodied arms waving above red and purple flower petals, the last is a black and white checkerboard with two blue herons standing on either side.

The program begins with “DWELL/burrow,” a work directed by Cerniglia featuring her and dancers Christina Chammas and Alexandra Claiborne-Naranjo. Under a pulsing blue circle of light, three figures wearing different t-shirts and the same brown slacks in turn sit atop one of the two stools. The sound of violins being dragged against aluminum siding incentivizes one of the dancers to grasp tentatively at the air as if searching for something in the dark with her fingertips. Bird-like cheeps motivate another dancer to stretch their arms overhead, as if to signal “I’m awake.” The third, balancing on her stomach atop the nightstand, hyperextends her neck, arms, and legs backward like a plummeting skydiver. Their movements range from mundane to imaginative. Worlds collide as the three superimpose themselves against one another, like memories of the same person being thought about at different times.

The three elaborately designed blankets are used to great effect as they are donned by the dancers and turned into the drooping skin of three abominable nightmare creatures. To pizzicato plucked strings the beasts emerge, with one lunging at the audience and loudly flapping their wings, a clear territorial warning. Like a fat beetle, one crawls slowly up and over the stools. On their hind legs, one mimics a shrouded beggar, extending their hand towards an audience member — don’t trust it! Oddly, the part that induces in me the most terror is when they do not move at all, posing perfectly still, just…watching.

In a transitionary moment, grainy recordings of people reminiscing about loved ones are juxtaposed over what sounds like cellos being sawed in half—the work of sound designer Scott Rubin—the lights shift from white, to blood red, to blacklight — the work of lighting designer Richard Norwood. Meanwhile, the dancers perform purposeful in-and-out of sync do-si-do spins, arms slicing through the air. The work ends with a retrograde of the movements from the beginning of the piece, bringing the work full circle. “DWELL/burrow” is an abstraction of the humdrummery, anxiousness and terror that we all feel in everyday life.

“Ghost Ensemble” is a collaboration with guest artist Anna Kasdorf and The Space Movement Project, an all-female contemporary dance collective. Collaboratively composed but performed solo by Kasdorf, “Ghost Ensemble” resembles a series of still, three-dimensional pictures, the subject slowly morphing from one to the other, like a “before and after” sliding effect used when showing pictures of people aging on television. In a simple white dress and peach shorts, Kasdorf, noticing something in the distance, goes through a series of slight facial alterations — inquisitive, prying, mild hostility, contemplativeness and, finally, a dreadful nonchalance. It’s that last one that sticks with her through the rest of the piece, a permanent stoneface. She molds herself into asymmetrical statues, knees bent, one foot arched up, head tilted to the side, one arm angled overhead, fingers spread wide. There are moments of looseness, Kasdorf drunkenly lurches forward, balance shaky, set to the sound of a robot scratching out sonic poetry on a chalkboard. Performed at a burningly slow pace, there are times when my mind did begin to wander, but then I was always brought back by a slight movement—or the perception of movement— I may have seen out of the corner of my eye. The thought I kept coming back to throughout the performance related specifically to what she could have possibly seen at the beginning of the piece that affected her so. But perhaps I don’t even want to know.

I found myself constantly reflecting inward based on relatable moments onstage. To the casual observer of dance, the work might appear too leisurely, but each piece is best appreciated as one would a painting, not meant to be viewed and put away, but to be considered and dwelled upon. There was no hand holding. Works such as these require the audience to engage themselves, to actively imagine along with the dancers. In this age of “too long, didn’t read,” “rejoinder” forces you to put your thinking cap on, sit still for an hour, and consider the big picture.

The long game: Dropshift Dance’s Andrea Cerniglia on taking her time and throwing things out

By Press

There are two basic timelines for any choreographic process. In the churn and burn world of big budget companies, two months can be a luxury, with as little as a week or two afforded to many choreographers creating for companies who present work multiple times a year.

Then there’s the long game: an approach which can take months or even years to develop a work, created through intensive research and many, many rounds of editing. Andrea Cerniglia has always opted for the latter, staying with an idea for years at a time. And after two years, the final version of “Nook,” performed by her company Dropshift Dance, premieres this weekend at The Charnel House in Logan Square.

“With this work, I had a lot more time to be in public spaces showing the work along the way, which felt richer for us,” said Cerniglia in an interview. As she built “Nook,” she showed previews and in-progress versions at Comfort Station last August, SITE-less, various festivals, and in a February double bill with Emma Draves.

“What was nice about each juncture was that I got to take things and throw them away,” Cerniglia said of “Nook’s” multiple in-progress performances. Previous iterations looked vastly different from the current version, in part because they responded to the setting – an empty storefont with Draves, a built-in set at SITE-less – and featured different numbers of dancers and sections of the piece.

These showings also didn’t include one of the major components of “Nook,” a trio of dance films directed by choreographer, photographer and filmmaker Nadia Oussenko. “This has been almost two years in the making,” Cerniglia said of her collaboration with Oussenko, who she’s known since their days working for Zephyr Dance. “It felt really organic. The movement piece has been going for almost two years as well, so there’re lots of layers.”

It’s not the first time they’ve collaborated. Oussenko’s initial relationship with Cerniglia was as a documentarian, and she most recently developed video for Cerniglia’s 2017 “The Remains.” But in “The Remains,” which came last in a four-part series begun in 2014, Oussenko’s role was understated, her atmospheric imagery projected onto the scenery and part of the environment. Put another way, Oussenko was part of the design team; here she’s a co-creator, her dance films interspersed between sections of choreography created by Cerniglia and dancers Monica Carrow, Christina Chammas, Alexandra Naranjo and Bonnie Christine Willis.

Bits and pieces of this movement are echoed in each film, which are set in three gorgeous landscapes: at the beach during sunrise; against a brick wall in the rain; and in a cavernous, pillared room at High Concept Labs. Said Oussenko, “Being able to work with someone else’s movement and still feel like I have ownership over it, in a way – it feels like I get to put my artistic input into it. It’s just a really fun collaboration.”

The extra time spent and ability to garner public feedback is a benefit for any choreographer, but especially important to those who experiment with their seating chart and perform outside of proscenium settings. Since its founding in 2009, Dropshift has encouraged audiences to sit anywhere they want, explore the space and move about freely. It inevitably leads to some interesting interactions between the audience and the performers – a quasi-social experiment testing the limits of personal space and how dancers respond to unpredictability.

To that end, “Nook” has layers of meaning which includes an inquiry into how the body responds to physical connections. That could mean the experience of movement – Cerniglia will offer an optional, pre-show, mini-movement opportunity for audience members to partake on Sunday evening – or being in physical contact with others. The topic of touch – a source of great debate in today’s society – can be comforting or contemptuous, depending on the context, and while dancers relish the experience of leaning into and rolling around on each other, audience members can be fiercely defensive about personal space.

In their usual way, Dropshift oscillates between pragmatism and theoretical artistic questions, encapsulated within a beautiful, dream-like atmosphere. What’s different this time is that Cerniglia’s typical minimalism is instead effervescent, refreshingly abundant, and in moments, I dare say virtuosic. And while her connectivity to the body and innate sense of time, space, effort and flow, guided by her training in Laban Movement Analysis, are one of the layers, perhaps more prominently present is an overarching connection to nature which permeates each film and section of dancing.

That, and, there are the robust contributions of composer Luke Gullickson, costume designer Collin Bunting and lighting designer Richard Norwood, who’ve long been Dropshift collaborators. Look for the little surprises and connections which bubble up among all these artistic elements – light bouncing off the overlapping sequins sewn against the grain on Bunting’s otherwise flowy, ecru frocks, for example, and the similar shimmering of the early morning sun across the water as Cerniglia sways to and fro, knee deep in Lake Michigan in the opening film. These images are echoed in the washing of hands onstage and swirling sounds of Gullickson’s score, or in the comforting cuddle puddle of dancers lounging in a cozy nook upstage. It’s maybe not so important to identify or intellectualize all these layers in the moment, but soaking it all in collectively, it’s a joy to come upon them and realize they’re there.

Disclosure: Dropshift Dance appeared in a series of performances the author produced in 2011.

Can dance in an empty storefront have the same feeling as your warm, cozy bed? ‘SNUG’ aims to find out.

By Press

Dropshift Dance, photo by Nadia Oussenko
Feb 11, 2019 | By Brianna Alexis Heath

What does it mean to be in close-proximity to another person? To be of the community and to exist as an individual?  What roles do artists play in the reactivation of forgotten spaces, and how do we reclaim these spaces for imagination and play that speaks to our culture and personal contexts? These are some of the questions I think about as I watch Emma Draves and Andrea Cerniglia rehearse developing works for their shared concert, “SNUG,” Feb. 15-16, at 4251 N. Lincoln Ave. The concert—bringing together Cerniglia, the artistic director of Dropshift Dance, and Draves, an independent dance-artist and educator—will be shown in an empty storefront, turned gallery-styled performance setting in which audience members will be able to take advantage of different viewing and seating options during the performance.

According to a press release, Draves’ work, “The Quiet Hours,” delves into “themes of independence and interdependence, tracking how we comfort ourselves in the ‘quiet hours’ and when we reach out for community;” while Cerniglia’s work, “At Our Edges,” “explores an adaptable physical state and our connection to the natural world and its processes of life and death.” Watching each of the works in rehearsal, I am drawn to the use of suspension, each of the ensembles’ embodiment of gravity, their intentional listening to the body that is both external and internal. Draves and Cerniglia—both with backgrounds in Laban Movement Analysis—encourage their dancers to make choices within a sketch in response to their environment, and in awareness to other bodies in the space that provides a supportive frame for exploration and a sharing of energies for both performer and audience member.

When speaking of the work, Cerniglia states, “I am always interested in building something full [of] image, something that has enough open space for the viewer to find their own way in…I am interested in the audience-performer relationship, what that dynamic can be, and how we, as artists, can set it up for people to feel safe, but also [empower them] to make choices and be inside of the work, or on the edge of the work.”

Emma Draves, photo by William Frederking In reference to the title of the concert, “SNUG”, Draves remarks, “I think about first-thing in the morning where I am still connected to humanity on the street, but I am still in this protected thing [where] I feel most safe and exhilarated. I think I am always interested in the actual people…I just want the actual people to be inside and not just dancer-bodies. There is hegemony in that which I am uncomfortable with given our current state.”

Even though the work will be performed in a non-traditional space, Draves and Cerniglia rehearse with their ensembles in traditional dance studios. However, there is certain level of anticipation and preparation building in each rehearsal for what will happen when the dancers and audience members enter the storefront. This is what excites me about the work: the potential for new things to emerge that may not have surfaced in the studio, the possibility for new variables to be introduced in each lift and jump, the risk of coming in direct contact with an audience member, and the idea of what will happen to the physical space when it is all over—the reverberation, the residue and the memory of what was.

Each of these works are smaller iterations of longer works that will premiere later in May. Cerniglia, who is currently working with several collaborators including filmmaker Nadia Oussenko, is excited to bring in community movement as a way “to impact the physicality of viewers…with a sense of weight and breath to impact their [space] as they watch and experience [the dancers],” she says.

Draves—whose work is, in a sense, a continuation of her research in her 2018 Set Free residency at Links Hall—is curious to see how she can push the individual within unison moments, using the importance and focus and touch to care for, and see the individual. The luscious moments of surrender to gravity—and to the collective—in each of the works that is lovely to watch. Draves’ sustained and circular movements that extend time, and Cerniglia’s playful energy shifts provide space for organic and human synergies where audience members can feel safe to indulge in the quiet, as well as the visceral moments.

Disclosure: The author was a performer for Emma Draves’ 2018 Set Free residency at Links Hall

Architectonic Dynamism: A Preview of Dropshift Dance’s “The Remains” at Defibrillator

By Press

By Michael Workman

Humanoid, geometric forms shift against walls, foreshortening the perspective of long, narrow halls. People squeeze between them as they move from one room to the next, temporarily becoming part of the shapes and movement. It’s unsettling and oddly arousing, a satisfying shift in social conventions for how we interact with one another. The fourth in Dropshift Dance’s “Imposters” series, company artistic director Andrea Cerniglia has brought together a range of committed dancers with varying levels of experience, including Cerniglia, Weichiung Chen-Martinez, Jill Moshman and Ali Naranjo.

“The artists involved have been a part of my creative process for some time. Each collaborator has contributed to past ‘Imposter’ productions, and most I have worked with for at least two seasons or more,” Cerniglia says. “These creative relationships are integral to the work and its development, so that with each new production we can push the process further and we are continually working from a strong foundation of previous collaborations.”

In progress since September 2016, this installment, as with each past edition, is intended to respond site-specifically to the architectural features of the space in which it is performed. Defibrillator presents challenges: no Marley flooring, many raw spaces.

“The sprawling nature of the spaces allow for a journey—this is a new and exciting opportunity for my work,” Cerniglia explains. “It continues to question how we consume art by pushing past traditional formats and placing audience members and performers in situations that require thoughtful action and spontaneous choices and responses.” It will be interesting to see what elements of the gallery they choose to engage, not least of which due to Cerniglia’s tendency to have dancers wear large, padded costumes that modify the space within which her dancers operate. The clunky Franken-cushions, originally designed by Amanda Franck and modified with burlap and moss by Collin Bunting, provide yet another layer of architectonic dynamism that, at times, results in direct interactions with members of the audience. Rounding out the collaborative effort, Luke Gullickson provides soundscape design, Nadia Oussenko, video installation, and Richard Norwood, lighting design.

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Dropshift Dance at Defibrillator Gallery, 1463 West Chicago, $20-$25, (773)609-1137 or Aug 16-18.


Narrow basements and collisions with dancers in ‘The Remains’ at Defibrillator

By Press

By Lauren Warnecke
Chicago Tribune
August 17, 2017

Wednesday’s heavy summer rain left the Chicago sidewalks steaming as guests filed into the new Defibrillator Gallery space in Noble Square, just a few blocks southwest of the gallery’s longtime home on Milwaukee Avenue. It was one of those rains that makes the city feel hot and gross — not the kind that refreshes and restores, or brings a cool breeze.

And so, instructed to explore any and all of the Defibrillator’s spaces for the opening of the Dropshift Dance quartet “The Remains,” a trip to the gallery’s musty, dimly lit basement only raised my internal body temperature. It was just light enough to see dancers Ali Naranjo and Jill Moshman tumbling across the dank concrete floor, lit by a few fixtures and the white glow of Nadia Oussenko’s hypnotizing video projected onto one of the small room’s bleak walls — the one that led to an amber-lit, brick-lined hallway. I observed that the dancers’ feet were filthy — it’s a basement, after all. Despite the invitation to go anywhere, the rest of my group and I lacked the courage to explore down that long, narrow hallway while Naranjo and Moshman’s tumbles frequently clogged up the entrance.

Venturing upstairs, I came to another mini-performance in progress. Weichiung Chen-Martinez and Andrea Cerniglia, tangled up in a massive, clumpy tuffet of pillows (by Amanda Franck), move slowly and methodically together until Chen-Martinez takes flight out of the mass of fluff, tossing herself in the air to land, and roll, and do it all again. The four dancers, dressed in costume designer Collin Bunting’s exquisite long, billowy black skirts and rust-trimmed collars that are, at intervals, hauntingly pulled over their heads like a half veil, eventually meet in the upstairs gallery space. It’s about 45 minutes into the evening, a notable transition to “the main event.”

Per usual, these dancers care little (and don’t appear to notice) if they bump into you. Like ghosts, they go about their business dancing exactly as prescribed, whether audience members have chosen to sit or stand in their way or not. They dance into, not around us. Of primary interest to Dropshift director and “Remains” choreographer Cerniglia is an investigation into whether and how audience members react to such collisions and interactions, a concept she’s been working with since 2014, when the first episode of her four-part Imposter Series “Imposter/Malleable” premiered. This latest, “The Remains,” follows suit, with viewers’ experiences of the dance totally dependent on where they choose to be.

Chen-Martinez is dressed slightly differently from the rest, often pulled away from the group as they writhe in and out of fetal position for what feels like a long time. But reflecting on the pace of the whole night, this “imposter” is dancier than the rest, with fewer long, uncomfortable stillnesses, and fewer structural impediments forcing me to change my vantage point. The open floor space and melodic score of banjo, drum kit and electric guitar set over nature sounds (by Luke Gullickson) draw the eye to the four moving bodies, rather than upward to the elegant pendant lights (Richard Norwood) and mossy garland draped from the ceiling, or toward the burlap hangings (also by Bunting) set above a raised platform at the head of the Defibrillator storefront, which serve as more projection surfaces for Oussenko’s dreamy seasonal video loops and the spot where the work ultimately ends with a gratifying lump of bodies and pillows.

Individuals with imposter syndrome are incapable of recognizing their accomplishments, fearing at all times they might be “exposed” as frauds. Cerniglia’s long-running series of the same name — the Imposter Series — is suffering a bit from the same problem, unable or unwilling to move past the familiarity imposed by previous installments. Having witnessed them all, this night tugged at memories of gestures, patterns and sensory experiences already had in the past.

Maybe that’s the point. There’s tremendous value in choreographers setting up shop with a particular idea for months, years, decades even. For me, “The Remains” revels in what has already occurred instead of plunging unabashedly forward into new territory. Of the four works in the series, “The Remains” offers the most satisfying passages of movement, but the least visible trajectory from beginning to end. Then again, Cerniglia’s work requires patience and curiosity, and on this particular night I felt neither, bringing little to the table to cull through the work in a way that felt new or meaningful … and that’s on me.

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Lauren Warnecke is a freelance critic.
Photo Credit: Nadia Oussenko

dropshift dance looks to the feminine for ‘FloatBrilliance’

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By on June 14, 2016

FloatBrilliance, premiering this weekend at Links Hall, is the third installment of what Artistic Director Andrea Cerniglia calls the Imposter Series, a multi-year project consuming at least half of her company’s history. In dropshift dance’s six seasons, Cerniglia’s aesthetic has gently, steadily pulled away from her roots in Zephyr Dance, but her commitment to multiple mediums with equal attention to the sonic, visual, and kinesthetic environments has never wavered.

Each of the works in the Imposter Series is a stand-alone entity, with little resemblance to the others. The common thread is all about the audience. When given free reign, what are the choices we make about interacting with performance? Are we willing to get close to it? Are we willing to let it happen around us and be observed by others with our bodies and behaviors becoming a part of work?

As with her other works, audience seating is unconventional, but FloatBrilliance imposes a few more guidelines. Guides will gently encourage audience members to sit very close to the performers at the start, though it feels less and less possible to remain close as the piece evolves. Compared to the others in the Imposter Series, FloatBrilliance is “softer and rounder,” said Cerniglia, but it’s also decidedly dancier with sweeping passes of physicality that will likely push audience members to the perimeters of the space.

Andrea Cerniglia and Weichiung Chen-Martinez in FloatBrilliance | Photo: Rosa Gaia
Andrea Cerniglia and Weichiung Chen-Martinez in FloatBrilliance | Photo: Rosa Gaia

References to nature abound, in the mossy knoll on which the four women in the piece both perch at attention and lounge, and complementary projection designs by Rosa Gaia and Jeremiah Jones. But this and the other elements — Cerniglia’s soft and round movement vocabulary, the underlying hum of composers Elliot Cless and Luke Gullickson’s score layered with conventional instrumentation and subtle electronica, and Collin Bunting’s flowing, blush colored costumes — allude more to the feminine mystique (or to Mother Nature herself?) than toward any sort of direct comment on trees and grass and butterflies. The eyes are often closed; when they open the women are coy, demure, at times skeptical. What arises from the dance is the sense that these four women (Cerniglia performs with Colleen Welch, Weichiung Chen-Martinez and Jill Moshman) support and console one another as sisters, but (like sisters) also question and challenge each other. Kind of like Cerniglia’s audience experiments, with agency comes accountability.

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FloatBrilliance premieres June 17-19 at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave. All performances are at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $20-25, available at the door or online. Audience format is fluid, however persons with disabilities or impaired mobility will be accommodated.

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic based in Chicago, and a regular contributor to, Windy City Times, and Chicago Magazine. Ms. Warnecke is the sole content creator of, and has written for nationally reputed dance blogs such as Dance Advantage and 4Dancers. Ms. Warnecke has worked in the dance community as a dancer and choreographer, sound designer, production stage manager, and curator. An experienced educator and administrator, Ms. Warnecke holds degrees in dance (BA) and kinesiology (MS), and is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. Tweet her @artintercepts.

‘FloatBrilliance’ a thing of beauty but not a joy forever

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Laura Molzahn

By Laura Molzahn

You almost feel you’ve stumbled into a bridal situation, with yards of tulle draped here and there, flowers littering the perimeter of the space, many glittery surfaces, and four nymph/bridesmaids in long peach gowns, seated or lying in graceful repose, waiting.

Beauty marks Dropshift Dance’s new “FloatBrilliance,” which closes Sunday at Links Hall, beauty in the design and in the dancing. Gentle, patient, searching, it starts in psychology, in the wholeness of an individual or of a relationship, but veers into philosophy, embodying the principles of action and reaction, control and its loss, affection and antagonism. Consistently divided into duets, it suggests symbiotic relationships — which can be beneficial or destructive, and sometimes both at once.

Live and recorded ambient music by Elliot Cless and Luke Gullickson creates a sonic wash of various intensities and allusions: Though strings and piano can sometimes be heard, so can electronic simulations of what seems like a jet taking off and the sounds of water — rain, a wave crashing. Projections of a sunrise or sunset, of lightning flickering in darkness, of a watery surface dotted with boats appear now and again on a billowy, sparkly curtain.

At least, I think that’s what these images were. The audience was seated on cushions arrayed around three sides of the space, and I was at the far end of one side, very near but almost behind the settee/bed/altar that was the set’s focal point.

As directed by Andrea Cerniglia, the fluid, integrated movement of “FloatBrilliance” intentionally blurs the line between volition and passivity. For many minutes early on, Jill Moshman and Colleen Welch sit side by side facing into a corner, their drooping heads relaxed together; from a perspective far behind them, a footlight burning into their faces created a glow. A slight motion, perceptibly initiated by neither, eventually turns into rocking, a pendulum.

Meanwhile the focus is on Cerniglia and Weichiung Chen-Martinez, who form a riveting relationship with each other and, rarely, with the audience. Intimacy, trust, care — each closes her eyes at points to be manipulated by the other — come across most forcefully, but there’s also something impersonal, even antagonistic, about their interactions. As Cerniglia repeats the motion of crooking an elbow and flicking a hand, Chen-Martinez watches like a cat about to pounce, aiming to interfere with or control the movement.

About midway through “FloatBrilliance,” Moshman and Welch begin their more kinetic but less intense duet; it’s as if all the movement dissipated feeling. At this point my attention began to flag, except during an almost comical musical-chairs sequence on the settee for all four dancers, with gestures traveling from one to another person: gazing into a palm as if into a mirror, fists brought to the mouth in mock horror.

“FloatBrilliance” is exceptionally well made, knitting together all the symbiotic nuances of relationship, whether between two people or between parts of the self. But it begins to feel airless, even claustrophobic. Like a 19th century, well-made play, it is a closed system. Actions become predictable; the long, slow, inevitable finale, which brings the work full circle, is a slog. It doesn’t help that the audience is asked to sit on the floor for nearly an hour and a half. That would detract from anyone’s experience, anytime.

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Laura Molzahn is a freelance critic.

Dropshift Dance / “FloatBrilliance” – 3 STARS

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Where: Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave.

Freelance contributor Laura Molzahn has written about dance for 25 years at publications including the Chicago Tribune, Dance Magazine and the Chicago Reader. A native Minnesotan, she attended Carleton College, UIC and Northwestern University, where she earned a doctorate in English. She tells herself she likes the challenge of verbalizing nonverbal art forms.

Sensory Immersion – A Preview of FloatBrilliance

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Third in the critically lauded Imposter series from Andrea Cerniglia and her group dropshift dance, “FloatBrilliance” bows at Links Hall this weekend. Much effort goes into producing the immersive performance environment from the video installations of Rosa Gaia and Jeremiah Jones, whose work Jones describes as “experimental documentary.” Simultaneously sculpture and environment, the projections unify the various other set elements, including a “flowing river of fabric that hangs overhead, leading to a shimmering screen. Islandesque, rocky surfaces on the ground function as seating and stage, screen and structure.” Music composed by Luke Gullickson and Elliot Cless will set the pace and frame out sequences within the performance using “folk-inspired acoustic instrumentals, lo-fi electronica and environmental sounds,” with performers outfitted for the environment by celebrated local designer Collin Bunting. And, as with past installments in the series, the audience integration remains central to its overall design, with dancers often moving in close proximity to attendees, at times even interacting directly, guiding them throughout the environment. “I would describe it as immersive and textural rather than ‘interactive,’” explains Cerniglia, commenting on the expected limits of the audience involvement in the production, in which she will dance alongside Weichiung (Coco) Chen-Martinez, Jill Moshman and Colleen Welch. This one’s a must-see. (Michael Workman)

FloatBrilliance at Links Hall, 3111 North Western, (773)281-0824. Friday-Sunday, June 17-19 at 7pm. $20-$25. Tickets at

Photo Credit: Weighing (Coco) Chen-Martinez and Andrea Cerniglia: Rose Gaia

dropshift dance’s dream team (review)

By Press

June 1, 2015 – Art Intercepts

In her fifth season as an Artistic Director, Andrea Cerniglia continues to “go big or go home.” As a 21st Century Diaghilev of sorts, Cerniglia has called on some of the best collaborators in the business for the creation of Imposter/Contained, continuing a series that began last year with Imposter/Malleable.

As with the first, this Imposter is an immersive installation full of eye candy. The audience is given instructions to wander and move about the space as we wish, choosing our vantage point within the three-dimensional dance space. We must make decisions about where to stand and, once we decide, what to look at, because things are happening all around us. The choices we make have a direct influence on what we experience and how we interact with the work, or don’t. As the evening progresses, the impact of our decisions as viewers became quite clear.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Coming into a dropshift show is a bit like entering a museum. We wander and pause, wander and pause, sip our drinks and then wander some more. Three women are strewn about the room (Cerniglia, Colleen Welch, and Julie Brannen) surrounded by an intricate set and video installation by Rosa Gaia Saunders and Jeremiah Jones. On the risers of Links Hall’s white space are two projection surfaces on easels, and the fourth performer, Weichiung Chen, with heavy black makeup and a gorgeous, ruffled, low-backed gown. Per usual, Cerniglia has created a quartet of women, however Chen never leaves her post. She is a dance within a dance that, even by the end, does not interact with anything or anyone else. When I took the time to gaze at her and away from the trio, it was all loveliness and intrigue, but did little to enhance the work as a whole.

In the main performance area, Saunders and Jones’ seemingly unstable wooden jungle gym is embedded with triangular projection screens. Christopher Fisher-Lochhead’s piano score is played from within a translucent triangular room built into the space. The environment is a balance of natural and unnatural materials, warms and cools, beautifully complimented by Richard Norwood’s lighting and Collin Bunting’s exquisite costumes – a patchwork of alternating stiff and soft fabrics in gray and mauve tones. It is a perfect blend of mediums, however Cerniglia’s desire to create cross-disciplinary, multi-media work doesn’t distract from the fact that dance is her home. Unlike performance artists who incorporate movement into their work, Cerniglia’s work clearly rises out of dance. Her dancers are crisp, clean, and technically sound (Welch and Brannen have never looked stronger).

Cerniglia is really good at waiting. Waiting to start, waiting to finish the idea, finding the right spot to change, move, arc, etc. This Imposter is less playful than the last; the score and the dance are screaming for a major chord so we can feel some sort of resolution. The performance simply fades out – the performers didn’t even emerge for a bow. It’s a resolution we never get, and maybe that’s the point. Though the work has moments of levity to break up the ominous tone, one wonders if these moments are provided by us, the audience, and vary from night to night. I mentioned that our choices mattered, and on this particular evening (Friday), the dancers found themselves sandwiched between audience members for a particularly cheeky section of gestures. Coincidentally, Cerniglia was squeezed in between her former Zephyr Dance coworkers Michelle Kranicke and Anne Kasdorf, who both gazed up at her with coquettish smiles. They are perhaps the only two audience members who might have been willing to live in that uncomfortable space for so long; others ran for the hills when they saw the dancers approaching. This gestural section dissolved into an intentional, contagious case of the giggles as the dance descended toward its end. I have no idea what Imposter/Contained is about. It feels neither deceitful nor contained. It is beautiful and frustrating. I loved it, but I can’t identify why.

Oh, art.

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By Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic based in Chicago, and a regular contributor to, Windy City Times, and Chicago Magazine. Ms. Warnecke is the sole content creator of, and has written for nationally reputed dance blogs such as Dance Advantage and 4Dancers. Ms. Warnecke has worked in the dance community as a dancer and choreographer, sound designer, production stage manager, and curator. An experienced educator and administrator, Ms. Warnecke holds degrees in dance (BA) and kinesiology (MS), and is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. Tweet her @artintercepts.


Dancers and audience are free to roam in ingenious offering

By Press

Imagine you’re wandering around an art gallery—and all the art is moving too: changing places around the room, shifting composition within works. At times you feel you’re the one hanging on the wall, and the art is looking at you.

That’s something like the experience of viewing Dropshift Dance’s ingenious, immersive “Imposter/Contained” (third in a series), running at Links Hall through Sunday in celebration of Dropshift’s fifth anniversary.

Multiple containers define the stunning set, by Jeremiah Jones and Rosa Gaia Saunders. A translucent box encloses the barely visible pianist-composer, Christopher Fisher-Lochhead. The audience risers, stripped of their chairs, entrap a performer (Weichiung Chen) who wanders her keep like the mad Lady Macbeth. Huge canvases contain video “paintings,” while a towering wooden frame near one wall encloses whatever is visible through it. If it fell forward onto the floor, it would define the “stage.”

But director Andrea Cerniglia’s point seems to be that artistic containers of all kinds are artificial, limiting.

Unlike the trapped Lady Macbeth, the other three dancers (Cerniglia, Julie Brannen and Colleen Welch) are free to roam the space. So are we: Audiences can roam at will, or sit. That means we become part of the performance—and often these accidental additions are among the work’s most beautiful moments: the man sharing the spotlight with Lady Macbeth, watching her; the tall woman peering up into the forest canopy of splintered wooden sculptures. Fisher-Lochhead’s repetitive yet varied music—it can sound like a march, meandering cool jazz, a tragic symphony—provides most of the structure, introducing new sections and moods. The movement alternates between poised stillness and frenetic momentum, between effort and collapse, as the dancers come increasingly into relationship with one another, and with us.

One after the other, the three dancers slammed into the wall I leaned against, inches away. Or danced, arrayed front to back at varying distances from my face: A foot away, four feet away, 10 feet away, they made for a dizzying perspective, as if I’d been dropped into a photograph.

Such moments thrill, but the constant energy required to try and get our theatrical bearings can be wearing, while all the existential wandering contributes to a lack of direction and sense of purpose. Though power structures, the ostensible subject, can sometimes be glimpsed in the dancing or sensed in the topsy-turvy audience-performer relationship, ultimately no particular point of view emerges.

More thematic structure—and at the same time more emotional lability, like that of the cooing, chortling baby in the audience—might have benefited the challenging balance of limits and freedom in “Contained.”

DANCE REVIEW: Dropshift’s ‘Imposter/Contained’
Laura Molzahn is a freelance critic.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave.
Running time: 90 minutes
Tickets: $20-$35 at 773-281-0824 or

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