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halprin-collod.jpgMidway through the latest MCA Stage production, Anna Halprin/Anne Collod and guests: parades & changes, replays when dancer Laurent Pichaud was transformed into a wacky, flummoxing cross between Rae Dawn Chong in Quest for Fire and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind run through a trash compactor, wearing a variety of disparate costumes and accoutrements, from animal heads to hoop skirts to fur-lined clogs to trash bags to a mop and bucket which the rest of the cast had piled on him while a hypnotic, electronica score played in the background, I had to remind myself that I was neither drunk, medicated, or ‘shroomed.   I have always been an avid fan and passionate advocate of MCA Stage, but this adventurous, highly audience-demanding show, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it plays an essential, irreplaceable role in making sure that our beloved Chicago will never just be flyover country in the minds and hearts of serious performance artists everywhere.  I’m not really sure if parades & changes, replays is dance, theater, bizarro fashion show, or a combination David Lynchian-Burning Man fantasia, but, it is a highly memorable, intriguing, jaw-dropping night of performance (and I guess the New York Times and the audience in this summer’s Athens and Epidaurus Festival, one of the most prestigious dance festivals in the world, also didn’t really know what to make of it, as well.)

Anne Collod is a highly-regarded French experimental dance choreographer who co-founded the Quatuor Albrecht Knust, a dance collective which aims to re-perform major early 20th century dance works.  Anna Halprin (who was born in Winnetka in 1920, by the way), is one of the most influential legends of modern American dance.  She premiered a groundbreaking piece of experimental choreography in 1965 called Parades and Changes, which was promptly banned from performance in the US for 25 years immediately after its New York City debut, ostensibly because of the nudity in its opening sequence, in which the dancers repetitively undress and dress, first mechanically in single file formation, then in pairs, sensually mirroring each other’s movements.  With what we’ve seen onstage and in all other artistic media in the past 25 years, the sequence is hardly shocking now, but it is still powerful – both in concept and performance.   The production, which is more a re-interpretation and re-construction of Parades and Changes, instead of a re-performance, since it incorporates many new ideas from Collod and her collaborators, some of the most acclaimed European choreographers working today, is at times head-hurting, logic-defying, but always hypnotic and surreal.  It also proves that Halprin was so much ahead of her time in meshing dance, theater, and performance art.  I’m not a dance expert, so I’ll refrain from discussing Halprin’s theory and research which plays a significant role in gaining an understanding of some of the intentions of the work (you can read a little more about it here).  But I do have to say that the production has some of the most memorable images I’ve seen this year – the naked dancers tearing the brown wrapping paper enveloping them, at times fiercely, at others playfully and expressively, is mesmerizing.  The hallucinatory, quasi-fashion show, where the dancers put on various pieces of clothing as well as absolutely random objects like metal pipes and a gigantic balloon while robotically walking around on stage, is both funny and perplexing.  French electronica expert Sebatian Roux’s live performance of an updated version of composer Morton Subotnick’s already synthesizer heavy score which accompanied the original Parades and Changes makes the sequence stranger still.  And when the “fashion show” concludes with Pichaud in his bizarre outfit stumbling out of the theater and into the streets around the museum (projected live into the theater via video), you’re so grateful that the MCA Stage is in town to bring us this type of visionary, electric, Midwestern-sensibility-crushing performance art. 

You can only catch Anna Halprin/Anne Collod and guests: parades & changes, replays two more times this weekend:  Saturday, November 7 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, November 8, 3:00 pm.  The show is on tour in the US, it goes to Los Angeles next in which Halprin will see this re-interpretation of her seminal work for the first time.

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