Review: Visceral Dance Chicago Portrays Eroticism, Power, and Celebration in SPRINGTEN

SPRINGTEN is the tenth-anniversary celebration for Visceral Dance Chicago. Under the tutelage and artistic vision of founder Nick Pupillo, Visceral has reached an international audience with stunning choreography. The beautiful pieces in SPRINGTEN showcase the incredible company members’ grace, athleticism, and dedication to the art of dance.

Visceral presents five pieces featuring three dances including the world premiere of Lotus choreographed by Pupillo. The company also brings the choreography of Marguerite Donlon and Danielle Agami to the Harris stage. Impetere by Pupillo opens with a tableau of exquisite movement by the ensemble. This dance was first presented ten years ago and maintains the sculptural style of movement that many have tried and few have achieved. These dancers are sculpted with every muscle toned with lithe movements to a killer techno soundtrack. Impetere showcases the entire company dancing with sumptuous precision.

Nia Davis and Meredith Harrill. Photo by Jim McNulty.

The second dance is Keep, an erotic pas de deux featuring sixth-year member Braeden Barnes and the stunning Meredith Harrill. The title is perfect as the movement displayed several definitions of the word keep. It can be action or a place—possession, harbor, and entanglement with passion running like an electric current in any of them. Barnes and Harrill are featured several times in the performances. Keep has shades of the traditional Mexican dance El Venado or The Buck translated. Barnes is a splendid creature displaying his desirability to all who seek him. In the Mexican version, the buck is hunted but is also an opponent. Pupillo’s choreography portrays a passionate pursuit rather than a hunt. Harrill’s intensity is equal to Barnes’s. It is beautiful to behold.

Visceral Dance Chicago Company. Photo by Jim McNulty.

Ruff Celts is a fun and lively dance choreographed by Marguerite Donlon. The music is traditional Celtic/Irish reminiscent of the Emerald Isle and Scottish celebrations. All of the dancers wear ruffs and the men wear kilts. Watching the dancers’ feet move like lightning submerged my memories of learning a more sedate Highland Fling in high school.

The company stepped out of the box with the intriguing Name It. The company is positioned and backlit in various synchronized poses. Some costumes are sleek while others evoke the hipster archetype across the decades. Name It is a premiere from choreographer Danielle Agami. Fourth-year company member Michelle Meltzer moves forward with a microphone. She prowls the stage giving instructions to the dancers and then challenges more than asks, “Why connect to one thing and be excellent or to many things and be just okay?” This dance is excellent and ends with the OG hipster Elvis on the soundtrack.

Braeden Barnes and Meredith Harrill. Photo by M. Reid

The finale of SPRINGTEN is another world premiere from Pupillo. Lotus is a mélange of sensuous movement to perfectly timed gymnastic moves like cogs in a wheel. The dancers leap from the stage and jam in the aisles inviting the audience to get up, move, and clap along. An exuberant finale to a wondrous night of being entranced by the graceful movement as well as in-your-face gravity-defying dance. SPRINGTEN is a culmination of years of giving finesse to the primordial and gifting Chicago as a contribution to the arts community. Visceral Dance Company is part of what makes Chicago a destination city for the arts.

Nick Pupillo directs the program and keeps it tight with pauses between dances. Running time was about two hours with pauses and one intermission. The selection of music included Trent Reznor, Sigur Rós, Sinead O’Connor, and yes- Elvis! I am looking forward to many more performances from Visceral Dance Chicago. Visceral also has a school located in the Avondale neighborhood. Many of their young students were in the audience and it was thrilling to hear them scream like they were watching music idols.

Visceral Dance Chicago presented SPRINGTEN last Friday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Check out their website at to see when and where this company will perform next.

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.