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May 8, 2009

UT mixes dance, theater in Sidecar’s ballet of the banal

[img id="77699" align="alignleft"] On a typical Chicago day, men and women trudge through their Sisyphean routine. They pass long hours at work, go home, or swing by their local bar for a while. Sidecar, University Theater’s new dance performance, adds a little twist to the ordinary as characters onstage flirt, fight, fantasize, and—most of all—dance their way through their daily routine.

Sidecar tells the story of the everyday slog, beginning with a typical weekend. The show’s nameless characters first appear in a bar on a Saturday night. Eventually, they return to their homes, some alone and others with company. They pass Sunday distracting themselves from Monday’s inevitable return with TV or a new relationship. Monday arrives, along with work, and the dancers move from their homes to the office. After work, they return to the bar. Their good mood deteriorates, and the show ends with a brawl.

Sidecar is the first dance show produced by UT in four years and it’s brought together cast and crew from a variety of RSOs, including UBallet, UCDancers, and Rhythmic Bodies in Motion. The show’s director and choreographer, fourth-year Ilana Tabby has danced for campus organizations such as UBallet, UCDancers, and FOTA. Sidecar is the first UT production she, and many other members of the show, have participated in.

Sidecar’s clear story line sets it apart from typical dance shows, where various numbers appear on stage with little or no relation to each other. In this show, the numbers progress logically as the story moves along. “I chose to structure the show as a continuous piece because I think it engages the dancers and the audience more,” Tabby said. “The show is held together not only by the progression of the scenes, but also by the orchestration of second-year Justin Staple. I guess in creating my own show, I wanted to draw upon situations and feelings that I and everyone seeing the show could relate to, to move away from a concrete but far-flung story (like in ballet) or contextless pieces, to something with a foundation in our reality.”

Because Sidecar is a dance show and not a play, it has to move the plot along not with dialogue, but with dance. “Action in the show is related not by events but by the passage of time, change of location, and progression of the relationships between the dancers,” Tabby said. “It is about uncertainty, missed chances, hating work, drinking as socialization, and absurdity.”

Most of the dancing in Sidecar is modern, but the choreography incorporates everyday movements and gestures as well. Dancers type, sweep up, and even fix their hair. These banal moments add an appropriate sense of realism that highlights the production’s mingling of dance with prosaic life. The show features a lively mix of solos, duets, and ensemble numbers, as well as changing sets and varied musical styles.

In addition to everyday movements, Sidecar also integrates several unusual set and prop pieces. Throughout the show, two projectors bookend the stage. The projected images change from number to number, sometimes flickering through multiple pictures in one dance. Occasionally, dancers move in front of the screens, adding the lines of their shadows to the image on screen. The projections “add an element that people do not necessarily expect to see when they go to a dance performance,” second-year Hannah Bracken said. “Having projections that include photography and video has allowed us to combine different visual arts and unite people interested in them.” Other unusual props work their way into the show, from green wigs to 3-D glasses.

All of these elements—the set design, the props, the dancing, the choreography, the music—were conceived and put together by students. “People should come see Sidecar because it’s funny (really) and because UChicago students—dancers, first-time dancers, sound and light technicians, set designers, projectionists—are doing some really cool things all at once,” Tabby said.

Sidecar still has a few kinks to work out. During the preview on Wednesday night, there were a few technical difficulties with the projectors, and a few of the transitions from number to number were a little stilted. However, these are all bumps that can be smoothed away by practice, and will likely disappear by opening night. Even if they have not, the dancers acted their way through these stumbles, making them a part of the show.

Although audiences may find the idea of a dance show intimidating, Sidecar’s storyline makes it both approachable and relatable for dancers and non-dancers alike. Dancing through these everyday events prompts the audience to re-evaluate their own routines, transforming them into fresh, exciting activities.