The brave new human architecture of Levels and Lines | Performing Arts Sidebar | Chicago Reader

The brave new human architecture of Levels and Lines 

Kristina Isabelle's modern dance puts her performers on stilts.

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Matthew McMunn and Felicia McBride

Matthew McMunn and Felicia McBride

Katie Graves

In this modern ballet, performed as part of the Pivot Arts fest program "Gravity," Kristina Isabelle retools the proportions of her dancers by literally sending them out on a limb, putting them onto stilts. A kind of next-generation pointe shoe, stilts perform a similar function, boosting dancers to different levels in space and elongating the lines of their legs.

Ingeniously, Isabelle sometimes deploys the stilts asymmetrically. When dancers wearing one stilt ply it like a lever to swing their bare foot to sublime heights, the alien angles they produce abstract their legs into pure lines that show crisply against the Joan Mitchell-inspired scrim.

This brave new human architecture dips the eight dancers into delightfully absurd territory in the partnered sections, which feature bold, flashing hip squiggles and fearless straight-shooting limbs. Improbable pairings give the ballet an almost interspecies feel, as when, in a pas de trois with two male dancers on demi pointe, Isabelle spins on one short stilt into an inclined dive, her supporting leg like a compass needle. Later, on taller stilts, she towers over another male dancer, leaning her body on his back like a tongue depressor as he tows her around stage. When she's reclaimed by three female dancers, they circulate her spidery shape over their heads and hold her in an inverted split. Her large shape swallows their smaller ones, just as this exceptionally ambitious and resourceful ballet engulfs countless other humbler ones. Vanessa Valliene opens the program with a clown show, Nice Try/The Sister.

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