Review: Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble Gives Freud a Smackdown in This is Not a Pipe

The Surrealism movement started in the 1920s, perhaps in response to WWI but definitely in reaction to art and literature being restrained and stifled into categories. Artists of the time were influenced by Sigmund Freud and his dream interpretations. Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble presents a wild and wonderful creation called This is Not a Pipe. The ensemble is celebrating its 20th year and this show is a remount of a 2006 production choreographed and directed by the founder Ellyzabeth Adler.

This is Not a Pipe takes elements of dance and theater starting with homage to the imagery of René Magritte. Dancers in bowler hats and umbrellas make their entry, giggling and playful and segueing into chanting and whispering. There are other images from Magritte including the green apple and a backdrop of L’Oiseau De Ciel—one of the artist’s more famous paintings. Beyond that is a deep crimson red fabric fashioned into a dress with a rose at the top. Calling Dr. Freud, who also considered fruit to be symbolic of the vagina.

Jenise Sheppard Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Jenise Sheppard as Dr. Freud enters in the second act to give his interpretation of human dreams and the subconscious. Freud’s psychoanalysis movement did no favors for women. Sheppard does a great portrayal of Freud intoning his misogynist theories on penis envy, and flower imagery as the vagina. The dancers strip down from bowler hats and black suits to underwear and debunk the harmful theories from Freud and some of the Surrealist artists.

The choreography does not follow traditional ballet moves but delves into free movements to a wonderful percussive soundtrack. The dancers are elegant with precise movements made to look improvisational. The amorphous moves are sinuous and like Free Jazz. A dancer steps out in flesh-colored attire to speak about being naked and throwing off the restraints put upon the color of her skin and her sex. Another dancer is clad in white and red being tossed about against her will as Dr. Freud stands by amused and speaks of penis envy.

The coercive aspect of the woman being passed from man to man symbolically was very powerful. This is choreography demonstrating how Freud and his psychoanalytical method subjugated women via his own belief in the superiority of men. The dance then takes a powerful turn when the women each say affirmations that empower women. “Don’t interrupt me,” “Let me breathe,” “I am enough” and other empowering phrases form a surrealist experience in which what has been dreamed becomes real in waking consciousness.

Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble. Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

The ensemble confronts Freud and his definitions of gender and the facades that people create as personalities. Freud is stripped to underwear and then dressed in a red dress -pressing a gender conundrum onto the doctor. In 2006, This is Not a Pipe would have been prescient in how nonbinary has become accepted because people are demanding it. Perhaps gender is a consciousness created by centuries of patriarchy. This dance is named after a Magritte painting called The Treachery of Images, also known as This is Not a Pipe. Is it Magritte thumbing his nose at the definitions of art, gender, sexuality, and restraints? The painting consists of a man with a phallic nose stuffed into the bowl of a pipe and a candle burning and wrapping the table like a serpent.

Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble’s performance of This is Not a Pipe is a beautifully choreographed and acted work of performance art. Delving into the subconscious and raising it to the surface is the definition of Surrealism as I understand it. Sometimes it looks like madness and at other times it looks like art. This is Not a Pipe is art, through dance that continues a conversation about individual expression regarding self-determination of identity. This is a fun and thought-provoking hour and a half with intermission. It is worth your while.

This is Not a Pipe final performances will be Fridays and Saturdays, November 5 – 20, in the Auditorium at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster Ave. Tickets purchased ahead of time online are $20 up until two hours before the performance. They are $25 at the door. Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble is bringing dance to schools and communities all over Chicago. For more information please visit their website

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.