One of the more unusual things I heard when preparing for the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) was a tip from someone involved that there was going to be “a ballet about Steven Holl.” I was obviously excited about this prospect, and I finally got to see the final results last Friday. It may not have been exactly about Steven himself, but it was close.

It turns out that CAB co-artistic director Sarah Herda had dreamed up a pairing in the initial stages of planning the Biennial. The result is a surreal performance by Jessica Lang Dance in collaboration with none other than New York architect Steven Holl. For 20 minutes at the Harris Theater on the northern edge of Millennium Park, “Tesseracts of Time” combined architecture and performance arguably the most potent way of all the Biennial’s performances, as nimble bodies gracefully moved around and through stage sets designed by Holl. Lang took “a sculptural approach to this new work, utilizing visually arresting sets and costumes, enabling three-dimensional interactions with bodies and objects that evoke emotions and tangible sensation.”

The first act included a large, site-specific projection of a wooden model of Holl’s Explorations of IN, which provided the backdrop for the experimental dance. Dancers emerged on the screen, superimposed into the model at the exact scale as the real-life dancers below. The music for the show was chosen based on material in “The Architectonics of Music,” taught by Steven Holl and Dimitra Tsachrelia at Columbia GSAPP. It includes David Lang, Morton Feldman, John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, and Arvo Pärt.

The real fireworks came in the second act when three fabric-over-tube forms sat on the stage, glowing white. The dancers moved in and through them, before the shapes were gradually lifted up off the ground. As they rose from the dance surface, colored lights illuminated the fabric forms from the sides of the stage. Tesseracts was based on the four seasons, compressed into 20 minutes. The colors of the backdrop and the hanging Holl forms changed in harmony with the changing of the seasons.
For more architecture and performance, check out the discussion, “Building Blocks: Choreography as Architecture,” by Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting and visual artist Jennifer Davis, at the Chicago Cultural Center.

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