“TAKE” Review – Visceral Dance Chicago’s fall program expands the notion of engagement

Noelle Kayser, vertical; Visceral Dance Chicago in "TAKE"
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Visceral Dance Chicago (VDC) 2018 Fall Engagement TAKE, presented November 1-3 and 8-10 at THE SPACE, 3031 N. Rockwell, is a dynamic, thoroughly exciting, cutting-edge piece of cerebral/electric dance.

Prince Lyons and Braeden Barnes support Paige Fraser

TAKE is a double world premiere including the duet KEEP, and an interconnection with VDC that suggests you can’t take without giving and can’t give without taking.  While focused on a sense of community, VDC offers a shared experience connecting with others, not just as an audience- as complex personalities participating in a joint human endeavor. Through intimate and bold movements and music, VDC provides a combined/reactive energy that is selfless, other-centered, intense and encompassing.

TAKE is percussively set to Pupillo’s designed score of fascinating, mind-spinning music by Forest Swords, Christian Löffler, Jon Hopkins, Desiree Miller, Moderat, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Sigur Rós, brilliantly mixed/mastered by Chicago music producer/score design icon Johnny Nevin.

Through choreography created, set on the dancers and rehearsed by Artistic Director Nick Pupillo, with lighting by David Goodman-Edberg, VDC dancers propel all the levels of participants on a journey that asks:

What do you give to any relationship?

What do you take from every relationship?

What new “being” is created from participating in a relationship?

What may each member keep from the encounter when the immediate relationship is over?

Visceral Dance Chicago; Caitlin Cucchiara, horizontal

The dancers: Braeden Barnes, Riccardo Battaglia, Gracie Black, Caitlin Cucchiara, Michael Erickson, Paige Fraser, Meredith Harrill, Noelle Kayser, Prince Lyons, Natalie Kirk, Ricky Ruiz, Cole Vernon, and Eliza Woitinnek.

The genesis of this splendidly danced piece of art is the core dance, KEEP, a duet in which the 2 partners maintain almost incessant physical contact, to emphasize possession and obsession; KEEP is embedded within the larger piece. Via TAKE, we are presented with an exploration of the self-absorbed, self-motivated, and inevitably self-destructive- in a word- selfish nature of human relationships as well as the supportive, selfless, altruistic nature of such relationships.

The enormous room where the work was staged was walled in whitewashed brick, with concrete flooring. VDC had draped one wall with black bunting; 2 off-white streamers tented half the ceiling. Lighting suspended from the ceiling and was also pulled onto the stage via an extra-long cord as part of the dance and to achieve spotlit effects.

The taped music was pulsing, throbbing, aching, rocking, vocalizing, keening. The costumes, designed and crafted by Nick Pupillo, were sexy, sexless, young, ageless, black, boned, fishnetted, skirted, revealing; changing to caped and hooded; changing to flesh toned, worn between bare flesh, white wisp-covered.

Meredith Harrill

The stunning VDC dancers thoroughly inhabited the lofty, generous space, creating new and unique human couplings and dimensions of personae. The charged rhythms of the music found them strutting, turning, lifting, TAKE-ing charge. In the portions of the duet that framed the other segments, Meredith Harrill and Prince Lyons were almost unbearably romantically HOT. The dancers moves were highly imagistic, often utilizing Pupillo’s signature hand-held heads; here, dancers also touched each other’s faces.

Far be it from this reviewer to spoil the portion leading to the end; suffice to say it involved bringing the audience in more closely, a strikingly mysterious electric cello player, Desiree Miller, who spun deeply swirling provocative melodies. Petals fell, muscular dancers’ bodies undulated on the floor, the audience laughed in glee and cried unashamed tears at the sense of wonder this work evoked.

When dancers and audience have concluded their joint experience of TAKE, Pupillo and VDC will have challenged the individual perception of performance art.

Visceral dance Chicago in Nick Pupillo’s world premiere of TAKE


I interviewed VDC Principal Dancer Riccardo Battaglia, himself a potent force in the night’s performance, in between the 2 triple night programs, about the training that allows him to perform the modern athletic ballet that is the hallmark of VDC, the company’s vision and his own, and TAKE.

Debra Davy: “Can you tell the readership something about your training and dance experience before you came to Visceral Dance? It looks like you have a very strong ballet background.”

Riccardo Battaglia: “I started dancing when I was eight, in a small dance studio in Pescara, Italy. I mainly trained in jazz and contemporary as a kid and then started taking ballet classes at the age of eleven. As a teenager I was taking all the classes I could, and danced tap for a while, tried a year of Argentine tango and other styles. After finishing high school I auditioned and got a full scholarship at The Ailey School in New York City. There I was taking ballet every day along with modern techniques by Graham and Horton. My first job was with a modern dance company, Elisa Monte Dance, and then after one season with them I was asked to join Alvin Ailey’s junior company, Ailey II. The repertory I performed there went from very balletic to contemporary to jazzy and modern as well. After finishing my two years contract there I had a couple of months of freelancing in New York that allowed me to explore even more of my dancing skills. I worked for a couple of commercials, did some modeling and was also teaching at Ailey. In January of 2017 I joined Visceral Dance Chicago. With this company I love how I’m able to switch between different choreographers. I also enjoy how I can use my diverse training and dance all these different styles.”

Riccardo Battaglia, center, with Caitlin Cucchiara and Ricky Ruiz in TAKE

Debra: “How would you describe the vision of Visceral Dance Chicago and how does your own personal artistic mission dovetail with the Company’s?”

Riccardo: “Visceral is about emotions, feelings and uniqueness. Each of us dancers has different backgrounds, personalities and artistic qualities and that’s one of the main missions for this company- to show diversity in all forms, how we can all work together and create beautiful art. My fellow dancers are very special to me and I learn from them every single day; we respect and love each other truly and I believe that comes out each time we perform.”

Debra: “Please tell us how you experience the new work, TAKE. What do you think it signifies or “means”, how does it feel to dance the piece, and in particular, what about the portion with the audience- was it as exciting for you as a dancer as it was for me in the audience?”

Riccardo: “Performing TAKE this last weekend was an incredible experience! Through the choreographic process Nick told us about how he wanted the audience to be involved, and that was super exciting. I’ve never been part of a show like this before. I loved being able to make connections with the people who are watching, looking at them, bringing them into our “dance” world. Throughout the show I experience this journey that allows me to- yes- be a dancer, but mostly to be a human. It’s so interesting to watch how people react when that audience/stage barrier breaks, and it’s beautiful that every night can be very different.”

Noelle Kayser and Braeden Barnes


For Information and tickets to TAKE, and all the great programs, dance education, opportunities and performances of Visceral Dance Chicago, go to the  visceral dance website


All photos by KT Miller Photography



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