Past, Present, Future: Bob Eisen and Guests: A response by Aurora Tabar

one off, off one, again
Wednesday, October 3, 2018 at Links Hall (*)

Duet by Bob Eisen and Joanne Barrett
New work by Bob Eisen performed by Same Planet Performance Project members Patrick Burns, Jess Duffy, Michelle Giordanelli, and Michael O’Neill, with original sound by Don Meckley
New work by Paige Caldarella danced by Jess Duffy and Chloe Michels
New work by Beau O’Reilly
Solo by Laurie Van Wieren

photo credit: William Frederking

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Before the doors open for one off, off one, again, I find myself resting on a repurposed church pew in the lobby of Links Hall. Spectators laugh around me, enjoying their wine, waiting with hushed anticipation. This never would have happened in the old Links Hall. We would all have been awkwardly crammed along the narrow tiled hallway, perusing group therapy offerings posted outside the Chicago Women’s Health Center. It is fitting that Bob Eisen, a co-founder, would present new work for Links Hall’s 40th anniversary season. This is not the Links Hall that Bob once loved, however. The Links Hall that he founded in 1978 with Carol Bobrow and Charlie Vernon was located in Wrigleyville. In 2013, Links Hall partnered with Constellation and got a much deserved upgrade when the two moved into their current home at 3111 N Western Ave, formally the Viaduct Theater.

Throughout the evening of one off, off one, again, I find myself meditating on the past, present, and future. The ghost of old Links Hall, where no doubt Bob and his contemporaries spent countless nights, makes several appearances. The program opens with a new duet by Bob and Joanne Barrett. The two enter in silence, house lights still up, wearing bright colored t-shirts and grey slacks. They circle the space as a raucous punk rock song blares from the speakers. There is lopsided galloping and flailing limbs. Joanne, who stands a foot shorter than Bob, is nimble, playful in her gestures, precise. She throws her hands up in the air, in Bob’s direction, a resigned gesture that at one point is perfectly timed to the lyric “oh dear!”. Bob intermittently hums along to the punk rock lyrics, gaze frequently turned towards the ceiling, releasing each gesture of his lanky limbs with the nonchalance of a rebellious teen. Both members of this duet embody childlike whimsy, even though they are in or approaching their 7th decade. They have played and grown together, and their graceful aging bodies fill the walls of new Links Hall with levity and hope for the future.

Laurie Van Wieren’s solo portrays a contrasting image of the aging process. She begins in tableau, facing upstage, arms suspended with elbows bent and one hip jutting sideways. Gradually, stuttered movements begin to spill from her limbs, hesitating, re-starting, each impulse stifled before it can be completed. At moments she appears to be catching something falling from the heavens, or frantically gathering it in her arms. But as soon as her precious cargo is captured, it is lost again. She stumbles through space once more. She begins to vocalize, stuttered sounds that only occasionally result in recognizable language: “She was…I was over it.” She is a women approaching her golden years, trying to pull herself together, get organized, make sense of it all. I wonder if her efforts are thwarted by her own doubts and uncertainties, or if external forces are holding her down. Perhaps a bit of both. One thing is certain: she is not comfortable. She is not free to speak, to move, to feel at ease in her own skin. And as desperately as she tries to regain control, she is stifled again, and again.

Paige Calderalla’s duet, danced by Jess Duffy and Chloe Michels, uplifts the audience with athletic postures punctuated by audible breath cues. The two young dancers are precise, ruthless even, as they hit each piqué and relevé with a youthful confidence bordering on recklessness. Suspended in forth position relevé, they appear to be floating on top of the world, only to come crashing down, landing with bellies flat on the floor. They are bright, virtuosic. Their exposed legs are made for jumps and turns. They do not hesitate, but instead forge ahead with certainty.

The same certainty is not shared by the protagonist in Beau Reilly’s monologue, a chronicle of the anticlimactic adventures of Judy Garland’s ghost. After a conspicuous escape from her grave, Judy wanders towards the Uptown Theatre, where she attempts to enter the stage for an anticipated return performance. “She wants the show,” Beau pronounces in a sing song voice, “but the show does not want her.” Judy is heckled off the stage and told she is a lush. So Judy floats to Sheffield and Clark. She doesn’t know why, she just knows the place is connected to some deep memory. Judy remembers a tall man going in and out of a closet. This is undoubtedly Bob Eisen going in and out of the three iconic closets at the old Links Hall. Laughter emanates from the audience. Beau continues with over-articulated cadence, describing how Judy tries to go in through the window, but something is not right. It stinks of sketch comedy in there. So Judy floats to the beach in Roger’s Park where dogs cuddle her until she crumbles to dust.

We are still picturing Bob Eisen going in and out of the closets when four dancers enter for the final piece of the evening. The dancers are Patrick Burns, Jess Duffy, Michelle Giordanelli, and Michael O’Neill of Same Planet Different World Performance Project. The dancers enter the space with a deliberateness reminiscent of Bob and Joanne at the top of the show. Don Meckley’s shortwave radio sounds tap and scratch. The dancers mill about in a coordinated fashion. One dancer does a handstand upstage and everyone else exits, only to enter again. At another moment, one dancer stops and is handed a glass of water from offstage. There is a repeated section of choreography which involves dancers holding one foot and jumping in a circle, followed by rapid head nodding. We imagine Bob producing the movement, his lanky limbs articulating the gestures with his iconic nonchalance. But each of the young dancers of Same Planet dances the choreography a bit differently, each embodying Bob’s movement while making it their own.

The new Links Hall is theirs to inhabit. The old Links Hall was a space for Bob and his contemporaries to explore, experiment, and develop their voices. The new Links Hall serves that same purpose for a new generation of dancers. And just as Judy Garland’s ghost was so deeply affected by Bob’s figure clamoring in and out of closets, so too will the ghosts of this and many evenings to come shape the future of a new Links Hall.

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Aurora Tabar is a Chicago-based performing artist and occupational therapist. Her professional and creative practices examine the process of healing and the potential for transformation. Alongside collaborator Nora Sharp, she co-organizes Research Project, a bi-monthly works-in-progress series. Aurora and co-curator Carole McCurdy will present a mini-festival entitled Power Ouch at Links Hall in February 2019. She works in special education, helping young people with disabilities learn and build functional skills. She lives on the west side of Chicago with her partner and their two cats.

(*) PRJ is partnering with Links Hall to celebrate their 40th anniversary by providing a platform for artist-to-artist responses to the work that is presented as part of the Pay-the-40th-Forward season. Thank you, Links Hall, for all that you do for the dance and performance communities in Chicago. Congratulations on 40 years!