Minnesota-based choreographer Chris Schlichting splashed his latest commission project over the Walker Art Center's McGuire Theater on Thursday night. "Stripe Tease" filled every nook, cranny, rafter and balcony with movement, sound and light in a performance that ran just over an hour. It was a lot to take in.
Big, collaborative commission projects can be like that: Schlichting invited visual artist Jennifer Davis to create a set piece that turned the otherwise spare stage into a candy-striped foil horizon, and invited fluorescent tiger posters to appear both on the high, side balconies, and as an onstage backdrop for the band.
That band, aka Alpha Consumer, was a smart and jazzy confab. Jeremy Ylvisaker, J.T. Bates and Mike Lewis provided a live, sometimes improvised soundscape for the dancing ensemble. Is there anything better than live music with dance? Short answer: emphatic no.
Of special note was the lighting design of Joe Levasseur, whose evocative shadows and bright white lights gave the performance a powerful edge. He is a master of whole space design, and his work with the ups and downs of the venue was delicious.
The evening began in silence with a sly duet. Max Wirsing entered and opened the thick, gray velvet curtain, inviting the audience into a duet he built with a wan Dustin Maxwell. The men were mesmerizing as they introduced the gestures and undulations that would drive the ensemble's repetitive theme.
Schlichting had promised a wink toward dance history, and delivered with a mannered, courtly structure. The other dancers — Dolo McComb, Krista Langberg and Laura Selle Virtucio — joined in, stretching the stage up and down the aisles and into the balconies, where bright lights and the tigers were perched.
The well-rehearsed group mastered intricate patterns and kinetic play through an occasional patterned duet or mirrored phrase. The women especially mastered the power of the gestural conceit, finishing the movements fully.
Twenty minutes into the piece, the musicians clicked into a rock beat that begged for some choreographic abandon. Though the dancers responded by speeding up their disciplined patterns, they never were fully released into music that was marvelously, immediately on stage.
Following this premiere, Schlichting will present "Stripe Tease" in other communities over the next year. It will be exciting to see how the work adapts.
Amy Lamphere is a Minneapolis writer.