When the Body Exists: a response by Ayako Kato

The J e l l o Performance Series celebrated its second anniversary as J e l l o: Refresh
Curated by Tuli Bera
Wednesday, February 6, Links Hall (*)
Artists: Tuli Bera, Christina Chammas, Sarah Flugel, Carla Gruby, Lauren Rose Milburn, Amanda Maraist + Kara Brody, Mel Rivkin, Lindsey Lee, Aja + Michelle
images: Ayako Kato 

On Wednesday, February 6, J e l l o Performance Series gathered more than 50 passionate audiences to witness nine groups of original contemporary dance works by fresh young committed choreographers/dancers/dance filmmakers at Links Hall. This exciting and very important movement/dance-centered, cross-disciplinary performance series was initiated by very charming talented dance artist Jessica Cornish who is currently active in Los Angeles. The series has been succeeded by promising dance artist Tuli Bera after Cornish left in Spring 2017, and her colleague Sarah Stearn joined in October 2018. Bera has been keeping Cornish’s will and patiently sustaining the show, so reaching the two-year anniversary of J e l l o became a gift not only for the dance community, but also for Bera.

For this show, as my gift to J e l l o, I will describe what those artists presented, followed by my impressions through haiku.

Dedicating her piece to first-generation Americans, Bera opened the show with her work-in-progress solo based on her recent experience in India entitled Bangali Mei (Bengali Girl). She politely asked us whether she can burn sandalwood incense and invited us to listen to a shloka- a hymn in Sanskrit which she remembered reciting from her childhood, asking us to close our eyes. After she left with the fragrance of the sandalwood, she re-entered into space hidden under a long Indian sari. Through the soundscape of streets in India, which she recorded during her trip, she revealed herself and moved as if she was the extension of the veil. To wrap up the piece, she shared a poem by Rabindranath Tagore which her grandfather loved to read, even touching the book right before he passed away.

Through spiraling smoke

Ancestors dance

In the enchanted eternal rhythm

Curator/Performer: Tuli Bera

Starting with repeated loose jumps to music “Puff The Magic Dragon,” Christina Chammas presented her solo Strand: February in her simple comfortable black training suit-like outfit. The black costume stood out in contrast with the white back wall, and gradually my eyes started to capture her shadow on the wall, also repeatedly jumping. The repetition persisted half-way through the piece and she shifted her face to the front also with the shift of the music. The jumps shifted to swaying, her covering eyes with her long hair which was un-tied as soon as she changed the facing.

Again and again

It’s nothing, yet, you saw me

In the blink of light

Sarah Flugel‘s Mind of Movement explored “how the Gaga language helps people uncover the stories and experiences hidden in their subconscious.” The simple movement piece was literally refreshing. She executed the sharp quick movement independently against the flow of her music, and the moment was effective.

Simplest is the most complicated

What is moving the body?

Rely on or not rely on

Carla Gruby‘s solo exhibited the place and the body, pursuing “how sound and landscapes can bend together visually.” Having the filmed scenery projected on the wall, their body and eventually, their movement started to react and coexist with not only the landscapes but also with sound. The plants captured through various angles also started to create an intimate relationship with their body and movement.

Finding the ground, breathing through the wind

Navigating how to sway

With Queen Anne’s Lace

Lauren Rose Milburn presented her work of dance on camera trillium to express, “three moving bodies nurture gift, grace, and strength unveiling a collective divine feminine nature.” The work truly conveyed the gentle force of three women who are coming from different ethnicities.

No need to compete

Born as it is in the soft breeze

Keeping the vulnerable form in the moment

Amanda Maraist + Kara Brody showed the strong improvisation work entitled Burrow, Tousle with Chrissy Martin’s voice/electronic soundscape. They created a room-like space with many tall and short lamps and colorful cushions, their virtuous contact improvisation movement was naturally occurring and blended in the homey environment. It is not easy to present this contact improvisation technique without the audience feeling abrupt to witness. Yet, their elegant duet somehow made the interactive moments look pleasant for our eyes with weightless moments in contrast with gravity. The yin and yang created by the multiple lumps which disappeared occasionally by some being turned off were memorable.

Light through darkness

How do we seek our endless relationship, being so close?

Stay away? To come together again!

Mel Rivkin created a ritualistic contemporary piece by combining her Judaism Studies and Social Work Studies. Their work created the unreachable mystic feeling by her enhanced makeup through black eye shadows, black body suits which somehow remind a superhero, and grey basins with water.

Sacred water

Still possible to purify me?

In the snowy late evening in the early spring

Lindsey Lee went with a white running shirt and shorts, to begin with. Gradually, changing the costume into a flashy short skirt one piece, Lindsey started to reveal their own-self and questioned why “I am me?” also asking why we are us?

Why are we born? Why am I here?

Now just enjoy and live through!

It’s your life!

Aja + Michelle presented a video performance of Thoughts Are Forces.


Anticipation of budding

Smell of green

All nine works kept the audience’s attention due to its earnest and honest performances and creation. The choices of sound were varied and revealed how each creator is associating with it as dance artists. When dance makers make conscious choices of sound/music, wondering how to establish the relationship and proximity with it, the attention shows and the awareness creates more multidimensional texture to the work.

Interestingly, three works used video projection, the first one being interactive with the live body, the second one being fully created as dance on camera, and the third one with  live objects. The evening offered different levels of LIVE experiences and a sense of power of the moving live body reminded why humans dance.

Dance has endless possibilities and varieties, possibly as many as the numbers of dancing bodies. Maybe no definitions will be possible for dance. Yet, no matter how many varieties increase, the evening of J e l l o: Refresh affirmed how much I love dance, not only creating and dancing, but also watching.


Ayako Kato is an award-winning Chicago-based dancer, choreographer, improviser, and teacher originally from Yokohama, Japan. In summer 2018, she toured Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium. In 2018, she celebrated her 20th-anniversary of her company, Ayako Kato/Art Union Humanscape. For her fearless and radical experimentation, she was selected for a 3Arts Residency Fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; the Players 2018: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago by Newcity Stage 2018, Links Hall Co-MISSION Fellow 2017, 3Arts Award 2016 in Dance, and a Meier Achievement Award 2016. Influenced by a Japanese view of nature and the philosophy of Tao, Ayako embodies the intangible, the beauty of being as it is, as “The Way” of nature. She is currently preparing for her upcoming performance “Self-Centered Selves” from March 15 – 17, 2019 at Links Hall. www.artunionhumanscape.net


(*) 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!