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Dancers and audience are free to roam in ingenious offering

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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