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Still scrappy Links Hall opens in new space

It could be argued that Links Hall, the venerable dance organization housed for decades on the second floor of a walk-up building in Wrigleyville, is a state of mind as much as a place.

Links' dance is raw, unadorned, wending from the wild and wacky to the unfocused and amateurish. Though graced with serious artistic intent, the work was typically limited in aesthetic trappings, the old theater almost laughable in its lack of consumer friendliness.

Now the organization has set up new digs in the old Viaduct Theater at 3111 N. Western Ave., renamed Constellation. Judging from Monday's first production, the trappings are much better, which is to say Links now meets the basic standard of most rag-tag storefront theaters. But the main stage is larger, while the overall ambience threadbare enough to welcome Links' experimental zeitgeist.

More happily, the state of mind--that scrappy, the-artier-the-better-but-pop's-OK-too enticement--endures. Monday's "Fraction" is one in a series that's all those things by its very definition, an airing of works in progress, with patron written commentary solicited. This is Links squared--where else could you see a postmodern effort employing flamenco and middle school students cavorting to Michael Jackson on the same bill?

On balance, "Fraction" launched Links with style. Andrea Peterson and Amaia Gabantxo delivered "Danaides," which uses flamenco with startling originality, preceded by Peterson's haunting, Beckett-like interlude of slow-motion struggle and agony. Lauren Kunath and John Jandernoa acrobatically employ various animal images, feline and simian in particular, in "Prey," a duet exploring the bestial metaphors of dance.

Tyne Shillingford's "Common Thread" was the program's most conventional work, but it cleanly, imaginatively employed its cast of three women on a bench in moves lyrically set to Vladimir Martynov's gorgeous "The Beatitudes."

Dana Christy and her 7th and 8th graders from the Near North Montessori School more than held their own in their nicely designed romp to Jackson's "Dirty Diana," their jutting arms and craftily employed knees interestingly echoing movement motifs on view in other works.

Both Philip Elson's solo for Cara Sabin and Joshua Kent's untitled piece for three women could use more development. But, they, too, were intriguing, sporting Links' offbeat sense of curiosity and exploration that evidently can't be stifled by a mere change in address.

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